How to Take Vitamins, For Newbs

Graphic of Vitamins

Every path to wellness is a marathon. We want to be that person who hands you a cup of water on your way.

Think of today’s article as one of those Dixie cups — filled to the brim with classic, never-out-of style advice on what we believe is the foundation of any wellness program: a vitamin and supplement program that is easy to schedule, easy to understand and, most importantly, evidence-based.

What is a Supplement?

Supplements are not medications.  If you walk into a drug store with a horrendous cough, you’ll head to the closest cough suppressant. Essence of lily blossom simply won’t cut it.  

Supplements encourage the body to do what it does, but better. Medicines discourage the body from doing what it shouldn’t.

Imagine two different students: Vicky, a good student and Malcolm, a misbehaving student. Your health = a good paper. Vicky is your normal bodily functions. Malcolm is the flu.

Supplements encourage the good student, “Great job, Vicky! You’re paper is good. Here are some extra tips for writing even better papers.”

Medicines discourage the bad student, “Stop it, Malcolm. Stop bundling up paper and throwing it at everyone.”

Supplements won’t work on Malcolm, because Malcolm needs to behave before he can write a good paper. Medicines aren’t relevant to Vicky, because Vicky is functioning well.

When your body is generally behaving well, supplements help it behave better. If your body is behaving badly (being a Malcolm), vitamins and supplements will be ineffective.  

Supplementation has to be a habit. It won’t work as a one-off.

Are You Taking Quality Supplements? Try the Vinegar Test.

For water-based solutions, the pH scale specifies how acidic or basic it is. On a scale between 1 and 14, 1 is the most acidic and fourteen is the most basic (least acidic).  

Our stomach acid and vinegar have a similar pH, somewhere between 2 and 3.5. What dissolves in vinegar will dissolve in your stomach.

Dissolving Pills

In our stomach, a well-made supplement should dissolve in under two hours. We can’t look into our stomachs, so we use vinegar as a substitute. Here’s the test:

  1. Acquire white vinegar. (Apple cider vinegar is not quite as acidic.)
  2. Pour vinegar into a cup
  3. Put vitamin or supplement into vinegar. Wait 2 hours.
  4. Vitamin or supplement should be completely dissolved

If, after two hours, the supplement’s still there, it’s a bad supplement.

IV Bag with supplements

Vitamin Fundamental #1: Some Vitamins Don’t Get Along

Vitamins and supplements can interact with each other. Sometimes, these interactions decrease effectiveness for one or both supplements, and sometimes these interactions increase effectiveness.

In most cases, effectiveness equals absorption.  

Calcium has been shown to decrease iron absorption. On the other hand, Vitamin C increases iron absorption.

A good vitamin and supplement schedule should take advantage of the synergy between others.  

Avoid negative interactions and take advantage of positive interactions.

Vitamin Fundamental #2: Water Soluble vs. Fat Soluble

(Authors note: no one ever tells you what ‘soluble’ actually means. Here’s how the Oxford English Dictionary defines “soluble”: “Capable of being melted or dissolved.”)

Dancing Gorilla

What are water soluble vitamins?

Water soluble vitamins dissolve in water. Gorillas dance in water.

Vitamin C and Vitamin Bs are water soluble. Because they live in water, C and B vitamins leave our bodies every time we urinate (what most of us call “peeing”).

So, you’ll need to take water solubles more often — once, twice or three times a day — or else they’ll wash out. Caffeine and other diuretics (diuretics make us pee more) will accelerate the loss of water soluble vitamins. Excessive sweating and drooling don’t help, either.

What are fat soluble vitamins?

Fat soluble vitamins dissolve in fat and are stored in fatty tissue. Fat tends to stick around. Naturally, fat soluble vitamins stay in the body longer than water soluble vitamins.

Most vitamins — A, D, E, and K — are fat soluble.

Can I take too much of a vitamin?

Yes, but the risk is low and confined to fat soluble vitamins, which are stored in your fatty tissue and liver, often for long periods of time.

You can never take too much of a water soluble vitamin, because the excess is evacuated through urine.

Vitamin Chart
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Other issues with fat soluble vitamins

Those who do not have fat in their body may have trouble with fat soluble vitamins. Even readers with killer six-packs should have some fat. To tell whether you have fat or not, simply put your hand on your wrist and feel for a pulse. A pulse helps you know whether your heart is beating, which helps you know whether you are alive or not. It’s best to have a pulse. If you don’t have a pulse, you may suffer from vitamin deficiencies.

Think you’re okay, just because you are alive?
Think again. Living people also have vitamin deficiencies.

When To Take Your Vitamins: A Practical Guide

This article is an introduction, which is why we thought it appropriate to include the vitamins which the most amount of Americans are deficient in, plus staples like vitamin C, which our customers may already be taking. We’ve settled on five vitamins, plus vitamin C.

A healthy twenty-year old has different needs than a pregnant woman in her early thirties. So there is no single, universal supplement regimen. At the same time, we are all members of the same species. There are some constants, and we’ll start with those.

Iron

Iron is involved in the creation of new red blood cells and replenishes our body’s store of red blood cells following blood loss.

Populations who are most at risk of iron deficiency fall into two categories:

  • People who lose blood. Internal bleeding caused from gastrointestinal diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can strain iron levels. Menstruating women also lose blood, and need extra iron.
  • People who don’t have good sources of iron in their diet. Red meat, which contains “heme” iron, is an ideal source. Plant sources, which contain “nonheme” iron,  are comparatively difficult for the body to absorb. This puts vegetarians and vegans at particular risk. [1]

The general population is affected, too. While more common in women, iron deficiency leads to similar health issues in both men and women: hair loss, reduced thyroid function, fatigue, weakness and a lack of blood flow in the hands and feet. [2]

When and How To Take Your Iron Supplement: “Heme” iron (the kind found in red meat) is the form you want to take. Because vitamin C increases iron absorption, try pairing your iron supplement with orange juice. (Pro tip: Avoid juice with added sugars.)

Take before breakfast with a glass of orange juice, or your vitamin C supplement. Calcium limits iron absorption, so don’t take iron with dairy products. [3]

Magnesium

Magnesium assists crucial functions in our muscles, brain and heart. Proteins, the workhorses of our cells, need adequate magnesium levels to synthesize. [4] As a review in the journal Nutrients stated, “Inadequate magnesium balance is associated with various disorders, such as skeletal deformities, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic syndrome.” [6] Some report  that magnesium helps with migraines, digestion and “de-bloating,” if that’s a word.

For years, magnesium has been overlooked, and experts are beginning to warn of the public health risks associated with magnesium deficiency.

Will you develop a skeletal deformity because you forgot to take your magnesium today? Probably not. But magnesium is serious business, and it’s found in foods which are neglected in the American diet, such as leafy green vegetables and nuts.

In the United States, from 2005 to 2006, “almost half (48%) of the US population consumed less than the required amount of magnesium.” [6]

It’s not just the US, either. In Germany, 34% of the population had low magnesium levels and 15% were entirely deficient. [7]

When To Take Your Magnesium Supplement:

First stay away from Magnesium Oxide. It’s difficult for the body to absorb. Instead, look for other forms, like Magnesium Citrate.

Magnesium can be taken once a day, at lunch, within a range of 300 mg to 420 mg in adults. [8]  (We recommend lunch because magnesium has been documented to interact with diuretics. Coffee is a relatively weak diuretic. Still, try not to wash down your magnesium with a pot o’ coffee.)

Calcium

Our moms were right. “Drink your milk,” they said. We drank our milk. But now we’re adults, and our moms can no longer force us to be healthy and responsible.

Hello, calcium deficiency!

Sustained calcium deficiency leads to osteoporosis and, less critically, a general softening and weakening of bones. A survey from the Journal of Nutrition found that about 80% of adolescent boys and men failed to meet the recommended calcium intake. Adolescent girls and elderly women had a higher rate, at 85%. [9]

Vegetarians and vegans will be at greater risk of deficiency, because dairy is one of the best sources of calcium.

When and How To Take Your Calcium Supplement:

A 2011 review by the Institute of Medicine recommends that adult men and women consume about 1,000 mg per day, while women above 50 and men above 70 need 1,200 mg per day. [10] (If supplementing, be sure to account for dietary sources. One cup of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium. Subtract that from 1,000, and you end up with 700 mg.)

Split it up. Take 500 mg at lunch and 500 mg at dinner. You’ll have trouble absorbing larger doses. [11] And remember, keep your iron and calcium separate.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is created when sunlight interacts with cholesterol in our skin. So, when you stand in the sun, you make your own vitamin D. The sun, however, is hot. Among the sun’s side effects are melted ice cream cones, sticky fingers and no water to wash off the stickiness.

As the American labor force slowly transitions into a force of knowledge workers, we’ll be getting less sunlight and generating less vitamin D. Portland + my cousin who plays Warcraft all day + Game of Thrones binge-watchers = vitamin D deficiency.

At-risk groups include individuals with skeletal disorders like osteoporosis and pregnant women. The further a person lives from the equator, the more likely they have a Vitamin D deficiency. [12]

Medical literature has associated Vitamin D deficiency with some of the same issues as Calcium deficiency: soft bones, weakness, bone loss, and even an increased risk of cancer. [13]

It’s difficult to find adequate amounts of vitamin D from dietary sources.

When and How To Take Your Vitamin D Supplement:

Take once per day, at lunch. If you get a moderate amount of sun, start with 1000 IU. [13] If you get very little sun, try 3000 to 5000 IU. Buy vitamin D3, not D2. Trust us on this one.

Vitamin D increases the absorption of Calcium, so don’t forget to take the second dose of Calcium we mentioned earlier.  

Vitamin B12

Like Iron, vitamin B12 hangs out in animal proteins, in chicken, beef, pork, fish, eggs and dairy, which puts vegetarians and vegans at a high risk for deficiency. Plant-eaters will need to supplement. [14]

Patrick J. Skerrett of Harvard Health calls B12 deficiency “sneaky…harmful.” Indeed. It’s notoriously difficult to detect.

Severe vitamin B12 deficiencies can lead to “deep depression, paranoia and delusions, memory loss, incontinence, loss of taste and smell, and more.” [15] The more common symptoms include muscle weakness, shortness of breath, pale skin, numbness and decreased appetite.

People who just ate, just finished lifting weights, and are naturally pale shouldn’t worry. That’s just you.

When and How To Take Your Vitamin B12 Supplement:

Split it up: B vitamins are water soluble. The recommended daily intake is 2.4 micro-grams (1000 mcg = 1 mg), so aim for around 1.2 mcg at breakfast and 1.2 mcg at night. [16,17]

For those who take a “B-Complex,” take it two times per day, unless otherwise directed. Stick to legacy brands like Nature Made®. They should give the right mixture of your Bs.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C supports immune function, while vitamin C deficiency, says the journal Nutrients, “results in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections.” [18] Vitamin C is great. We know this.

Though vitamin C is widely available in dietary sources, not everyone is perfect. You may, from time to time, forget your daily oranges, bell peppers, kale, strawberries, cauliflower, brussel sprouts…pineapple, kiwi, mango and papaya. So supplement it.

When and How To Take Your Vitamin C Supplement

Split it up. Take in small portions throughout the day: before breakfast (with your iron supplement), at lunch and dinner.

For adult men and women who do not smoke cigarettes, take 20mg three times a day. This is based on a recommended daily allowance of 60 mg. [19]

We Hate Goodbyes

We think you deserve some credit. You’ve made it through:

  • C+ humor
  • 2,000 words of pretentious, overwrought writing
  • 16 separate uses of “deficiency”

Seriously, thanks for sticking with us. Thank you for supporting Green Lotus Hemp. We research and write this stuff for you, so let us know what topics you’d like to see us cover in the future. The first person to fill out a comment form can recommend ANY subject. Anything. We’ll write about it. Do it and see. Really.

Have a wonderful day!

Your friends @GreenLotusHemp

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