First let’s start with why it is important to take your supplements as prescribed! A good practitioner will provide you with instructions on how to take prescribed supplements, including when to take, how many to take and how to take (with food or on an empty stomach). To get the most benefit from your supplement regimen, you will need to be consistent with taking them, as well as take the appropriate dose at the appropriate time! If you were prescribed supplements as part of your healthcare plan, it is wise to treat them as you would a medication. Being consistent with your regimen will help your doctor best evaluate the effectiveness of the prescription, and adjust your plan accordingly.
As previously mentioned, some supplements absorb more effectively on an empty stomach, for example, systemic enzymes or glutathione. Others absorb better with food, such as your multivitamin, and others work best when taken during a meal, such as digestive enzymes. Also, activated charcoal is best taken away from food, medication, and other supplements, as it will absorb whatever is near (i.e. in your stomach) when taken.
How can you remember to take what pills and when? I personally use and recommend a portable pill keeper. This way you always have your supplements handy anywhere, anytime! My favorite pill keepers allow you to take one day’s worth at a time with you, and is divided into morning, noon, and evening, see pic attached to this article for an example. You can find these on Amazon, and your local drugstore may have a selection as well. I load my supplements for the week on Sunday, that way I don’t have to worry about forgetting to take any. I find this method to be very convenient and effective, and helps me to be compliant with my own supplement regimen.
The source of your supplements is also very important! You may be thinking, “can’t I just buy my vitamins at the drugstore?” The answer is simple, if it has not been tested to verify ingredients, dosage, and lack of harmful additives, the answer is no, because you can not be certain of the contents. It is always wise to have verification that what is printed on a label is actually in there, and nothing else. There have been recent studies showing that some over the counter supplements contain actual medications such as steroids, stimulants or antidepressants, not listed on the label, as well as heavy metal or allergen contaminants. In addition, there are other clinical factors to consider when taking supplements, such as the appropriate dosages and forms, which can vary significantly from patient to patient. For example, lets talk about a popular vitamin most people know about for energy, vitamin B12. Cyanocobalamin, the most commonly supplied form of vitamin B12, is not as readily absorbed and utilized by the body as the activated form, methylcobalamin. And further more, there are clinical situations where the adenosyl or hydroxy forms of B12 would be better choices. To top it off, if you don’t have a properly functioning GI tract, you may not be able to adequately absorb any form at all! So you see, there are many caveats to supplement prescribing, which is why it is important to get help from your Functional Medicine practitioner.
Keep in mind that supplements are meant to be an adjunct, and are not a substitute for following your entire healthcare plan. Nutrition, exercise, sleep, relaxation, environmental/toxin exposure, and stress management are all vital to improvement in health. If these areas are ignored, it is unlikely any supplement or medication will make a significant improvement in your health. In our culture it is easy to think that popping a pill is the answer to helping you achieve your health goals. However, in Functional Medicine we aim to find and treat the root cause of your symptoms, and provide you with a comprehensive, personalized plan to help you achieve true, long lasting health.