You may be taking a supplement or two, but how do you know if you are reaping the full benefits? What if you’ve been taking a supplement for a while now but it doesn’t seem to be making a difference? Below are 5 possible reasons why your supplement isn’t working:
- You take poor quality supplements. Not all products are created equal. Since supplements are largely unregulated, some products don’t actually contain the dosage written on the label (i.e. the active ingredient in the bottle is less than what is written on the bottle)- or worse, these products may contain fillers or contaminants which can be harmful to health. Furthermore, some cheaper products may contain the inferior, less absorbable form of a vitamin or nutraceutical, so it is important to look for well-established brands and products that contain the right vitamin form. Not sure which ones are high quality? Find a licensed naturopathic doctor or functional medicine practitioner who is trained in nutraceuticals and prescribes high quality, third-party tested products.
- You consume the wrong food/ drink with your supplements. Did you know that caffeine (in coffee, tea) can inhibit iron absorption? Did you know that fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K need to be taken with a meal that contains fats in order to be absorbed by your body? Taking the wrong supplements together can also inhibit absorption. For example, calcium can block the absorption of iron, so these two minerals should be taken separately.
- You take supplements at the wrong time. Certain nutrients have different effects depending on the time of day. Magnesium helps to relieve tense muscles and promote relaxation, so taking it at night may support a good night’s sleep. Multi-vitamins in general should be taken in the morning or during the day (with food).
- You are on certain pharmaceutical medications. Some medications can affect nutrient absorption, which in turn affects the efficacy of the supplement you’re taking. For example, proton-pump inhibitors (commonly used for heartburn, acid reflux and GERD) reduce the amount of stomach acid made in the stomach lining and can affect the absorption of vitamin B12 and iron. If you take any prescription medications, talk to your doctor about nutritional implications that might come with them.
- You have a medical condition. Certain diseases and medical conditions can affect your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. For example, people with Celiac disease have trouble absorbing some nutrients like iron, calcium, B vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins because they have flattened intestinal villi (which transports nutrients into the bloodstream). If you have a condition that limits your absorption of certain nutrients, you will likely benefit from supplementation, but you may need a higher dosage compared to other people.
Dr. Ardyce Yik ND always recommends meeting nutrient needs through consuming a balanced, nutritious whole foods diet rather than through supplements. However, if you have a diagnosed deficiency or consume a restrictive diet (e.g. vegan, vegetarian), supplements may help to fill certain nutrient gaps. Also, certain life stages may require increased nutrient needs. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfed infants be supplemented with 400IU of vitamin D to prevent vitamin D deficiency. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended to take folic acid, and older adults may be given calcium with vitamin D to keep their bones healthy and strong. If you are currently taking supplements but unsure of its quality or efficacy, seek advice from a licensed naturopathic doctor or functional medicine practitioner with extensive knowledge in nutraceutical supplementation.