The answer to that question actually isn’t so easy, and it’s filled with confusing and conflicting information. For example, a recent Annals of Internal Medicine study advised Americans to stop wasting money on multivitamins. (Just tell that to the 40 percent of Americans who take at least one every day.)
One co-author of that study advised Americans to spend their time and money eating fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and low-fat dairy, and getting more exercise. The real catch: How many people actually get the 40+ vital nutrients and daily activity they need to stay healthy without receiving help from a supplement?
Before taking any supplement, consider the answers to these simple questions when doing your homework.
1. Do I need to see a doctor before taking a supplement? Anyone wanting to take a supplement or a probiotic should see his or her family physician first. It’s the only way to ensure the supplement you’re taking on a daily basis is a safe quantity and doesn’t conflict with any other supplement or (over-the-counter or prescription) drug you’re using.
2. Where can I find simple, easy-to-understand information about any supplements I’m taking? In addition to Nutrition.gov and the National Institutes of Health, WebMD.com’s Vitamins & Supplements Center provides a great search engine to do your research for free.
Another great source of information for specific details is ConsumerLab.com (available as a paid subscription), an online service that tests supplements based on their active ingredients and any impurities or deficiencies they may have.
3. When is the best time to take a supplement? Although natural health guru Dr. Andrew Weil admits there’s no “best time,” take supplements when “they most agree with you” and your daily routine. However, be aware that taking too many supplements on an empty stomach or with a light early meal can cause indigestion, Dr. Weil says. And, be sure to drink enough water.
4. Which form of vitamin should you select? It depends on the supplement, according to WebMD. Some come in pill form because they can be harmful or ineffective, while others may perform better as a liquid or powder. Again, don’t hesitate to ask your physician or pharmacist for guidance, based on your specific daily drug and activity regimen.
5. Should you take a supplement after the expiration date listed on the bottle? Medical experts like WebMD take a conservative approach, noting that vitamins and supplements sitting in a dark, cool cabinet for too long lose their strength over time and should be thrown away.
However, please be careful about how you dispose of expired supplements or drugs. The FDA urges consumers not to flush any drugs down the sink or toilet, unless instructions on labels tell you to do so.
Be on the lookout for community-sponsored take-back programs that allow you to bring unused drugs to a central place so they can be properly disposed. If you miss those dates, mix those supplements with coffee grounds or kitty litter, place them in sealable bags and throw them in your trash.
In my next article, I’ll share information about the eight supplements you should consider taking for your good health.