Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
While Diet is the Pillar for Proper Nutrition, There are Times Where Supplements Come in Handy.
The best time to take multivitamins is when you are at a higher risk for low nutrient levels or have an increased nutrient requirement.
Busy lifestyles, highly processed diets, chronic gut conditions, pregnancy, and prescription medications all create a barrier to adequate nutrient intake and are times in your life when a multivitamin is useful.
Multivitamins can be helpful short-term supports for low nutrient levels until you’re able to adopt a nutrient-dense diet during your healing journey.
Focusing on healing your gut from a bacterial imbalance or infection, irritable bowel syndrome, and low stomach acid can help increase nutrient absorption so that multivitamins don’t have to be a life-long solution.
With our fast-paced lifestyles and constant search for convenience (namely our food), many of us fall short on our fresh fruit and vegetable intake. Instead, we’ve turned to multivitamins to meet our daily nutrient requirements. Not to mention, many of us have been conditioned into thinking that a daily multivitamin is an essential part of our health routine (thank you, Flinstones vitamins). While the importance of getting in essential vitamins like b12, magnesium, and vitamin D is pretty well-known, the question remains: is there a best time to take multivitamins?
The answer is, yes — when you have low nutrient intake, low vitamin levels, or an increased need for nutrients. If you are dealing with severe malabsorption, are pregnant, have a heavy menses, or have limited access to healthy foods, you may benefit from a multivitamin or other nutrient supplementation. But for those who don’t fit into any of the above categories, perhaps the better question is: do you even need one?
The majority of the time, you should be able to get everything your body needs from a balanced diet. Research shows that those who continuously rely on multivitamins vs whole foods to meet their daily requirements have worse health outcomes . Thankfully, many people who do need multivitamins only will for shorter lengths of time.
The better route for long-term maintenance of healthy vitamin and mineral levels is through a nutrient-dense diet and healing your gut. This can significantly increase your nutrient intake and absorption. An inflamed, leaky gut with an imbalanced microbiome can make correcting a nutrient inadequacy with a multivitamin an uphill battle.
But if you are looking for a quick fix for dealing with a nutrient deficiency, and/or are still in the process of healing your gut, find out how to make the most out of your daily supplements and the best time to take multivitamins.
When Is The Best Time to Take a Multivitamin?
While many people won’t need one long-term, the best time to take multivitamins is when you aren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals from your food, have low nutrient levels, and/or have an increased requirement (such as in pregnancy).
While multivitamins are never a replacement for a varied and nutritious diet (and research strongly supports this) taking a multivitamin may not be a bad idea for certain people. Supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin is shown to be an effective way to correct low nutrient levels and meet your daily nutrient needs [2, 3].
Though most people do not need to take a multivitamin, below are common reasons that many people take a daily multivitamin :
Having a chronically low appetite (common in older populations)
Eating a highly-restrictive diet (like for pre-surgical weight loss or to heal gut symptoms)
A gut condition that impairs absorption
Being too busy to make/eat balanced meals
Taking a prescription medication that depletes certain nutrients (like antacids, birth control, and cholesterol-lowering medications)
Having a diagnosed nutrient deficiency (may require high doses of specific vitamins)
When Should You Skip Multivitamins?
When you shouldn’t start taking a multivitamin is to treat any unexplained health symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, brain fog, or pain.
Often, when experiencing unexplained health symptoms, we are tempted to reach for supplements, including multivitamins, to get some relief. And while a DIY approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing, your efforts are likely better directed toward healing the root cause of your symptoms. A multivitamin, at best, acts as a band-aid solution for chronic health concerns.
While certain nutrient deficiencies can cause unexplained symptoms, they are often due to another underlying cause. Focusing on healing your digestive health through diet, rest, and, directed supplements (like probiotics) is often a more effective starting point for healing your body — and can fix any vitamin deficiencies along the way.
Not to mention, healing your body is a better avenue for directing your time and financial resources vs stocking-up on potentially unnecessary supplements for the long haul.
While it’s nearly impossible to overdose on nutrients from food (or a daily multivitamin), you can definitely overdo it on high-dose vitamins and other dietary supplements which can lead to side effects. Vitamin supplements shouldn’t take the place of medical advice or vitamin tests. If you are looking for answers to a serious health concern, it’s best to speak with your doctor first.
Who’s At Risk For a Nutrient Inadequacy?
Inadequate nutrient consumption is rampant in developed countries, due to a variety of factors including diets high in processed foods and nutrient-depleted soils. Nutrient-packed foods like leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, dairy, and healthy fats are lacking in many people’s diets.
In fact, over 80% of Americans have insufficient fruit and vegetable intake, putting them at an elevated risk for nutrient inadequacy and more likely to rely on a daily multivitamin . Fortunately, it can just take some simple dietary changes to rectify these levels and avoid having to lean on daily vitamins.
While a healthy diet is by far the best route to take for getting your daily vitamins , those with suboptimal nutrient status may need a multivitamin to give their levels a boost. There are some select populations that have a higher risk for a vitamin or mineral deficiency :
Those who have a diagnosed deficiency — especially if they are severely nutrient-depleted — should speak to their healthcare provider about high-dose oral or IV vitamin supplements (in very select cases). In these cases, a multivitamin (or diet alone) is highly unlikely to cut it.
A Multivitamin Isn’t Forever
Typically, taking a multivitamin is done short-term and for a specific period of your life, like pregnancy. Many people don’t (and shouldn’t) need lifelong supplementation of vitamins and minerals. For those who have low nutrient intake and/or absorption, a multivitamin is often a temporary fix until the underlying issue is addressed.
Many times this is a lifestyle adjustment, especially if you are skimping on your diet due to a busy lifestyle. You don’t necessarily need to jump into making home-cooked meals seven days a week. Swapping frozen TV dinners for a boxed fresh-meal service or prepping meals on the weekend may be an easier fix.
But when looking for long-term solutions for maintaining healthy nutrient levels, you may need to take a better look at what you’re actually eating and your digestive health. If you’re wondering what’s the best time to take multivitamins during the day, read on. Otherwise, feel free to jump ahead to learn why gut health matters.
When to Take Your Daily Vitamins
There is really no universal best time of day for taking multivitamins, as it will depend on your individual needs. Here are a few examples that may help to determine the best time of day for you to take your multivitamin.
If you often have trouble sleeping or are easily stimulated… Consider taking your vitamins in the morning or during your afternoon slump. Some people find that multivitamins that contain a b-complex (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, folic acid, vitamin b6, etc.) can be too stimulating and keep them awake when taken at night.
If your multivitamin contains iron, zinc, or b vitamins…You may want to take it during or right after meals. Many multivitamins formulated for menstruating women and pregnancy contain iron, often causing an upset stomach or other digestive symptoms. This can also occur with zinc and b vitamins too, and symptoms often resolve when they are avoided on an empty stomach.
If you are taking thyroid hormone…Avoid taking your supplements and multivitamin with your medication. Magnesium, calcium (though often limited in multivitamins), and iron can lower the absorption of your thyroid medications. Avoid eating and drinking at least 30 minutes away from taking your medication — and this goes for multivitamin supplements too.
If you are taking any other over-the-counter or prescription medications…use caution when taking your multivitamin at the same time. Certain medications lower the levels of nutrients, especially when taken together. Acid-blockers and PPIs have this effect, and their chronic use is frequently responsible for poor folate, vitamin b12, and calcium absorption (so it’s best to take these nutrients away from your antacids). Laxatives and Metamucil can decrease absorption of almost any supplement or medication when taken at once. Many other medications and nutrients are affected by each other, so check with your doctor to see if yours should be taken apart.
What Type of Vitamin Should You Take?
If you do fall into a category of someone who will likely benefit from a daily multivitamin, you are probably wondering which type of multivitamin is best for you. The good news is that many will contain the proper nutrients to bring you back to healthy levels.
Low micronutrient and mineral levels are exceedingly common, with water-soluble vitamins like magnesium, choline, potassium, calcium, and vitamin C at the top of the list . Along with iron, they are accompanied by their fat-soluble counterparts vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin K. Aside from calcium and potassium, most multivitamins contain these necessary vitamins and minerals.
Some multivitamins don’t contain iron, so if you are a menstruating woman, pregnant, or have a history of low iron, your multivitamin (or prenatal vitamins) should contain iron. As always, reach out to your provider if you have questions about what type is right for you.
However, if you’re targeting a specific nutrient deficiency, you might consider individual vitamins as opposed to multivitamins to get the most therapeutic benefit. When supplementing with long-term and/or high-dose vitamins, consult with your doctor and have your levels checked to avoid overdoing it. Additionally, you shouldn’t supplement potassium or calcium supplements without guided supervision, as they can have negative health effects when taken in excess.
A Healthy Gut is Essential for Nutrient Levels
Having a healthy digestive tract is imperative for healthy vitamin and mineral levels (and your overall wellness). The gut is where the nutrients from both your food and your supplements are absorbed. The small intestine is responsible for 90% of our nutrient absorption , and is, unfortunately, a common spot for gut dysfunction.
Conditions that trigger inflammation in the small bowel can make it challenging for your body to absorb nutrients from your diet — or a daily multivitamin. The most common culprits of malabsorption are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and leaky gut syndrome [11, 12, 13, 14, 15].
On top of that, a well-functioning stomach and its contents are necessary for optimal absorption of nutrients . This is why medications like acid-blockers and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that treat reflux by lowering stomach acid can cause nutrient deficiencies. Stomach inflammation, H. pylori infection, and/or low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) can also disrupt the digestion process, often causing vitamin and mineral malabsorption .
A healthy microbiome — the tiny organisms that live in your gut — is also vital for nutrient metabolism. When there is an imbalance in these microbes, called dysbiosis, they can disrupt our ability to absorb nutrients and produce metabolites that are unhelpful or harmful to our well-being [16, 17, 18].
Any of the above factors, which often co-occur, can cause you to develop low nutrient levels over time or even render your multivitamin far less effective. Fortunately, a healthy and balanced diet isn’t just helpful for boosting your vitamin and mineral levels, it can heal your gut at the same time. As an added bonus, if you are taking any supplemental vitamins and minerals, healing your gut will increase their absorption, making them much more effective.
How to Optimize Your Diet
Many of us dealing with chronic digestive conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, or other persistent gut symptoms can easily slip into a restricted diet with the hope that we are removing bothersome foods. While a multivitamin is a great way to supplement nutrients for those on a highly-restrictive diet, there is a long-term way to heal your symptoms and meet your nutritional needs.
Inflammation is a major cause of gut disorders, countless health symptoms, and nutrient deficiencies. Giving your body a rest from the main driver of this whole process — inflammatory foods — allows you to recover and improve your overall health. Additionally, a balanced diet should get you all the daily vitamins and minerals that your body needs.Though there may be a few exceptions, such as those in low-sunlight areas needing extra vitamin D.
A great way to adopt an anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense diet is through a Paleo-based elimination diet. Removing common inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, sugar, and processed foods makes way for more nutritious foods to enter the picture (like fruits and vegetables), and allows your digestive system to heal.
It’s best to be aware that the Paleo diet can be lower in calcium, as it restricts dairy. However, it doesn’t has to be, as increasing your dark, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetable intake can ensure proper calcium levels. If dairy is not a trigger for you, the Mediterranean diet may be another option, as it allows a small amount and may be a better fit for some.
We have many articles that offer in-depth guidance on how to complete an elimination diet, along with many frameworks to base it around (Paleo, low FODMAP, AIP). Your individualized diet will depend on your specific needs, but we offer in-depth guidance on how to figure out which one will work best for you.
Lastly, certain supplements, when taken at the right time, can help restore normal function to your digestive system. Multistrain probiotics (healthy bacteria), HCl, and digestive enzymes all help to heal the gut and can get your nutrient levels back on track.
The Best Time to Take Multivitamins Is When You Truly Need To
If you have limited access to a nutritious diet, have a nutrient deficiency, or have increased nutrient needs, a multivitamin can help get you through this period. However, dietary supplements should never be used to replace a balanced diet, and if they are relied upon long-term for your daily vitamin and mineral needs, it can lead to poorer health outcomes.
If you do need to take a multivitamin, make sure you take one that best suits your needs (you can always check with any of your doctors). You can also adjust what time of day you take it to make sure it isn’t interfering with your sleep or causing stomach upset.
Ultimately, adopting a whole-foods, nutrient-dense diet and healing your gut is what will boost nutrient levels for most people. For help in this arena, you can reach out to the Ruscio Institute for Functional Healthcare to meet with one of our many healthcare professionals. Or, if you prefer to heal on your own, my book Healthy Gut, Healthy You walks you through my complete, but simple, gut-healing protocol.
The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.
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