As a natural health practitioner, I see many clients who take dietary supplements regularly. As simple as it sounds, supplementing can cause confusion—and people often make mistakes. Do you think you’re taking all the right nutrients, and that you’re taking them the correct way? Let’s look at some common errors people make:
- Believing taking supplements is “enough”
No one achieves great health from taking a lot of pills. Over the years, I’ve had many people show up in my office with bags or other large containers (one brought a suitcase!) full of dietary supplements, asking, “Am I doing everything right?” Remember: health comes from the lifestyle choices you make every day, not from bottles of pills. Supplements are to supplement an already good foundation of health. You don’t need to take multiple pills a day if you’re eating well! A good multivitamin suffices for many people.
- Taking calcium with iron
Here’s a little-known fact: calcium can hinder iron absorption. Check the label on your multivitamin. If it contains both of these minerals, you’re most likely not absorbing the full amount of iron. If you suffer from iron deficiency anemia, you can take iron, but make sure you take it at a different time of day than calcium. Iron absorption is enhanced when you take it along with vitamin C.
- Mixing minerals and antacids
If you’re taking antacids, don’t take mineral supplements at the same time. Adequate stomach acid is needed to absorb minerals. If you take an antacid every day, be sure to take minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc with meals, when your stomach would naturally increase its stomach acidity through the release of hydrochloric acid. It’s advised that you not take zinc on an empty stomach; most people will feel nauseated if they do this.
- Thinking beta carotene and vitamin A are the same thing
For the record, beta carotene is not vitamin A. Many people read vitamin labels that notes “vitamin A (as beta carotene),” and they take that to mean that beta carotene is the same as vitamin A. But beta carotene isn’t vitamin A—it’s the precursor to vitamin A. This distinction is important because vitamin A in doses greater than 10,000 international units (IU) per day have been reported to be potentially harmful during pregnancy. Beta carotene is non-toxic, even in high doses, and it can be converted in the body to vitamin A. (Your body won’t convert more beta carotene to vitamin A than it needs). Most multivitamins today have only beta carotene on the label, but make sure yours doesn’t have vitamin A if you’re in your childbearing years.
- Taking calcium carbonate if you have digestive issues
If you have a sluggish digestive system – i.e. constipation – taking calcium carbonate may increase the problem.Calcium citrate would be an ideal alternative. On the other hand, people on the opposite end of the digestive-issue spectrum (suffering from diarrhea) should be aware that taking too much calcium citrate, or magnesium citrate, can worsen their condition.
- Taking herbal supplements with meals
Finally, it’s generally best to take herbal supplements on an empty stomach to enhance their absorption. However, if your stomach gets upset, you can take them with a small snack.