Whether you pop it in a pill, inject it, chew it or sprinkle it on your cereal, vitamins are becoming increasingly popular. A recent study by Niina Savikko reported a significant increase in the use of vitamins and fish oils within the last ten years, particularly for vitamin D and calcium (1). She also identified the use of vitamins was no longer directly associated with personal levels of education.
Yet despite the population becoming supplemental savvy, do people actually know how to take their vitamins to ensure maximum absorption and efficacy?
Vitamins A,D,E and K are known as ‘fat soluble’ vitamins. Therefore they require a fat medium to be absorbed into the intestine. Taking multivitamins with a source of dietary fat is therefore beneficial, if not necessary, for absorption. For someone delaying breakfast, provided they have no contraindications, a fish oil would be a suitable source of fat to marry with the ingestion of a regular multivitamin.
Fish oils have an extensive list of health benefits including improved cardiovascular health(2) (initiation of fish oil supplements was associated with a 48% reduction in 2-year mortality(3) in patients post heart attack in a 2013 study) along with improving skin and joint function, delaying cognitive decline and improving vision. Fish oils containing DHA and EPA are the most extensively studied with significant scientific data surrounding them. Vegetarians can enjoy these supplements in Algae pills rather than the typical fish oil.
Many doctors also recommend splitting a multivitamin into 2 divided doses, taking half in the morning and half at night. ‘Your body can only absorb so any vitamins at one given time’ Dr Oz of the Dr Oz show. Vitamins such as B and C are water soluble which are more easily absorbed by the body than fat soluble vitamins, though there is little capacity to store them(4). Taking vitamins in low doses on a frequent, regular, basis maintains their levels throughout the day and hence prevents deficiency.
"At Risk" Groups
Caution with vitamin supplementation in children, pregnant and nursing mothers or anyone undergoing chemotherapy. Despite these groups being in need, more than anyone, for optimal health and nutrient loading, there has been little research done on these population subgroups. Dietary selection of fresh fruit and vegetables are therefore of utmost importance.
Use Alongside a Good Diet
Those outside the ‘at risk’ subgroups should also not forget their dietary duties to fresh, organic produce. Despite ongoing emerging data and increasing population compliance with vitamins and fish oil supplementation tablets will never replace a good wholesome diet.
‘When you step back and look at medications as chemical modifiers of cellular processes in complex biological systems like our body, it’s easy to understand that health comes not from pills.’ Dr John Mandrola.
There is little doubt however, that they do at least help.
Dr Jenna Burton, aesthetic physician, medical writer and health presenter. Involved in population health promotion, primarily focusing on education surrounding eating disorders.
1. Savikko N, Pitkälä KH, Laurila JV, Suominen MH, Tilvis RS, Kautiainen H, Strandberg TE, (Helsinki) ‘Secular trends in the use of vitamins, minerals and fish oil products in two cohorts of community-dwelling older people in helsinki-population-based surveys in 1999 and 2009.’ J.Nurt Health Aging 2014.
2. Yosefy C, Viskoper JR, Laszt A, et al. ‘The effect of fish oil on hypertension, plasma lipids and hemostasis in hypertensive, obese, dyslipidemic patients with and without diabetes mellitus. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids’ 1999
3. William Haris; Kevin F. Kennedy; Philip G. Jones; Thomas M. Maddox; John A. Spertus, ‘Fish oil supplementation in post-myocardial infarction patients in the triumph study: Defining characteristics and relations with a two-year mortality.’ Journal of the Americal College of Cardiology. 2013 (http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1665596) (Page 1, date accessed 8/9/14)
4. L. Bellows, R.Moore, ‘Water Soluble Vitamins, B-Complex and Vitamin C.’ Colorado, 2014, (http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09312.html) (page 1, accessed 8/9/14)