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Regimen Checkup: Taking Everything the Right Way?

March 20th, 2009

Time for a supplement regimen checkup.

Time for a supplement regimen checkup.

As we said in Wednesday’s post, if you use supplements at all, you probably use more than one.  Your supplement regimen is the group of supplements you’re currently using.  And as important as nutrition and health are, your regimen really deserves to regarded as more than just a few bottles on a cabinet shelf.  Every regimen represents a substantial investment of money at the least and often a last-best attempt to get a particular health problem under control before resorting to drug or surgical options. So in the interest of getting the best results for your money, time and health, it’s good to periodically audit your supplement regimen, making sure you’re taking the right things, the right way, at the right time, and are able to do so on an ongoing basis.

A good place to start is by cleaning out your supplement cabinet.  Check expiration dates and throw out anything out-of-code. Also, consider discarding supplements that are close to expiration and/or have been opened but unused for more than a month, especially multivitamins, B-complexes, and herb extracts.  Throw out any supplements you otherwise don’t see yourself using in the near future.

Of the products that remain, re-acquaint yourself with the label instructions and ingredients. Make sure you understand what the product does, how you should best take it, and what you may need to do to ensure that you can take it the right way on a consistent daily basis.

Here’s how you can approach these questions with regard to different types of supplements:

Multivitamin: Multivitamins provide all your essential vitamins and most of your minerals in a range of potencies, so if there’s one supplement everyone needs, it’s a multi.  Although many people take their multi at breakfast, the time of day is not important with a multi – it doesn’t affect the results or benefits. What is important with a multivitamin is taking it with a lot of solid food, preferably the largest solid-food meal of the day. For most people, that’s lunch or dinner as opposed to breakfast. But regardless, the more solid-food the better in terms of absorption and minimal side-effects. In fact, the chief side-effect of a multi-vitamin – nausea – occurs as a result of being taken with insufficient amounts of solid food.  Your multi may require up to 8 tablets or capsules for a full dose,  you can divide those up over several meals, just remember, multis always go with solid food. Usually used on an ongoing basis.

B-complex: Most of what applies to multis also applies to B-complex; never on an empty stomach and always with solid food, the more the better.  Like multis, B-complex will upset your stomach without enough food material in there. Both B-complex and multis will temporarily discolor your urine yellow because of the vitamin B-2 they contain. Otherwise, time-of-day has little impact on results provided you take your B-complex every day.  We recommend buying small bottles of B-complex, one months worth at a time, since they don’t store well and develop a strong odor over time. You may want to store B-complex in the refrigerator to cut down on the odor, but only do this with smaller sizes that won’t be in there for months on end. Used on an ongoing and temporary basis.

Vitamin C: Whatever forms of vitamin C you use, and there are a lot to choose from now, time-of-day doesn’t matter but taking multiple, separate doses does; ideally you’ll take 2-3 evenly-spaced doses -morning, afternoon and evening work well.  So vitamin C might be one of the vitamins you need to carry with you in your briefcase or lunchbox so you’ll have that second or third dose at hand when you need it. Used on an ongoing basis.

Vitamin D: Use a Vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol) supplement and take it any time, day or not, with or without food,  ideally with the other fat-soluble nutrients; vitamin A, vitamin E, fish oil and EFA supplements, CoQ-10, DHEA,  and astaxanthin, for example. Used on an ongoing basis.

Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Supplements (Omega 3 and 6): Since virtually all fat digestion takes place in the intestines and not the stomach, fat or oil-based supplements like EFA supplements could theoretically be taken without food and some people do it that way. But we suggest taking them with solid food, preferably with any other fat-soluble nutrients like the ones mentioned. If you take a separate omega 3 and omega 6 supplement, take them 6-8 hours apart from each for the best utilization of each.  Time of day is not important, but taking a potent fish oil supplement in the morning with a light, protein-rich breakfast can really do good things for your mood and mental functions. Used on an ongoing basis.
Protein Supplements: Can be taken anytime, day or night. Avoid taking free amino acid supplements at the same time as a protein shake, as most amino acid supplements should be taken on an empty stomach, or at least in the absence of other aminos or protein. Used on an ongoing basis.

Amino acids: In most but not all cases, these are used on an empty stomach (see below) but it really varies with the amino acid in question and how it’s used. Read the product label if in doubt. Used on temporary or ongoing basis.

Herbs: In most cases these are taken with food 2-3 times per day, so these are something you need to pack into the briefcase or lunchbox to stay consistent. Herbs are used on a temporary or long-term basis depending on the formula.

Minerals: Many people take minerals such as calcium formulas to boost and complement the limited mineral coverage that a multi provides. Like multis, minerals need to be taken with solid food (with ZMA being a notable exception), ideally in divided doses. With calcium, it’s of particular importance to take one dose before bedtime. That might also be a good time to take magnesium since many people find it has relaxant properties. Used on an ongoing basis.

Special purpose supplements: Supplements taken for specific benefits that don’t pertain to meeting basic nutritional needs are numerous. These include cholesterol and weight-loss formulas, as well as products for sleep, energy, bone health, digestion and much more. In every case, you’ll get the best results by using them consistently and in accordance with label directions. So, three times a day means three times a day, if you want to reap the full benefits or find out what a product can do. That, more often than not, means taking those second or third doses along with you in an empty bottle or pillbox. But full compliance with label directions can easily make or break the results you’ll get so it’s always worth the small trouble to take those 2nd and 3rd doses when the manufacturer or your doctor recommends. Used on a temporary, trial or long-term basis.

For supplements that address symptoms like digestion or sleep, you can usually judge how well they’re working on your own. But for supplements that address a specific health parameter like cholesterol, hormones, blood pressure or blood sugar, you can’t rely on symptoms or subjective criteria. So don’t start taking them without a baseline test of that parameter, that you or your doctor can arrange. Without a baseline test before using the supplement, and follow-up tests during and after, you really don’t have a basis for determining how well the supplement worked.

Take on an Empty Stomach: Since most people eat throughout the day, or at least every few hours, a frequent question in regard to this requirement is; what constitutes an empty stomach? How long should I wait before or after eating? In actuality, that varies according to what’s been eaten and other factors. But a good rule of thumb is no sooner than 3 hours after eating anything else, and no sooner than an hour before eating anything else. With this is mind, the best 2 opportunities for this are first thing in the morning, immediately upon arising, or last thing before retiring (just avoid eating after dinner). In ether case, make it easy to comply by having the tablets or capsules already out on the nightstand, along side a glass of water.

You may want to repeat this process every 6 months or year, taking into account changes and improvements in your health,and factoring in the results you’ve gotten from supplements you’ve tried. By taking your supplements consistently, and making sure you do so in the right way, you guarantee that you’ll get the best results from your regimen and the best return on your investment.

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