Supplements: Why You’re Taking Them the Wrong Way

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health


A friend of mine takes nine different supplements each day. She doesn’t take them in the morning because that’s when she takes her prescription drugs and she doesn’t want them to interfere. Instead, she takes them after dinner and swallows them with a whole glass of water, because water helps them go down, and if she doesn’t have them right after a meal, the supplements make her feel nauseated.

But she heard that drinking too much water while taking supplements isn’t a good idea, because water dilutes stomach acid, which is needed to digest and absorb certain nutrients.

In other words, she wants to maximize nutrient absorption, but she doesn’t want to get nauseated—a catch-22. Most supplement labels don’t give instructions, so she wondered, What’s the best way to take supplements?

I spoke to regular Daily Health News contributor Andrew Rubman, ND, founder and medical director of the Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines in Southbury, Connecticut, to find out—and what he told me was very surprising. In fact, it’s likely to completely change the way you take your supplements.


Dr. Rubman frequently prescribes supplements to his patients, and here’s what he had to say regarding my friend’s concerns…

1. Take them in batches. It’s best to take your daily supplements together in small groups, spacing them throughout the day, so they are better absorbed. For example, Dr. Rubman suggested that my friend who takes nine supplements should split them up and take them in two or three batches.

2. Take them during a meal. Most supplements require a strong acid environment in the stomach to be digested properly, so taking them when your stomach is empty (and there is no acid in it) reduces nutrient absorption. Taking them with only water dilutes stomach acid, as mentioned earlier, so that’s not ideal either. Here’s the part of his advice that’s probably going to make you say “Oh my goodness.” He doesn’t recommend eating a meal and then taking your supplements immediately after with a beverage, which is what you might suspect. He said that it’s actually best to take a bite of food…chew it into what he calls a “watery slurry” (a mix of food bits and saliva)…put a supplement pill into your mouth (with the chewed food still in there, too)…and then swallow food and supplement together. Repeat this until you’ve taken all your supplements.

The chewed-up food helps the supplement go down, and it’s likely to help boost nutrient absorption because it’ll encourage you to chew your food thoroughly—and the more you chew, the more you produce saliva, which stimulates stomach acid production. Plus, nausea is often caused by not taking supplements along with enough fiber, so taking supplements during a meal means that you’re more likely to absorb fiber along with the supplements.

3. Go easy on the water at mealtime. It’s OK to drink water while you eat your meal, but limit yourself to half a glass, rather than a full glass, because you don’t want to reduce the strength of the acid in your stomach too much. (Drinking water in between meals is, of course, fine and recommended—so no need to cut back in that department.)

Taking a digestive enzyme may help maximize nutrient absorption and reduce nausea, too. Dr. Rubman prescribes many of his patients, especially those over 40 years old, one capsule of DuoZyme made by Karuna at each meal (a one-month supply of 90 capsules costs about $25 at stores such as This type of supplement may help because it contains essential enzymes that often are missing or in short supply due to a poor diet and/or aging.

It’s always smart to go over all of your prescription medications and supplements with both an MD and an ND to make sure that there are no negative interactions. And do not take your medications at the same time as your supplements unless one of your doctors advises you to do so.


There are only two particular situations in which Dr. Rubman does not follow the above rules.

Vitamin C, he said, should be taken in between meals, because it can reduce the acid level in the stomach and make it harder for you to absorb the nutrients in your food. Also, people taking individual amino acid supplements, such as arginine ormethylsulfonylmethane (MSM), should take them in between meals, too, because the absorption of amino acids can be negatively affected by the protein in food.

All in all, Dr. Rubman’s advice is certainly going to change the way my friend takes her supplements. What about you? Will it change your supplement-taking habits? Comment below!

Source: Andy Rubman, ND, founder and medical director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut.