Popping a pill a day to give us everything we need nutritionally would certainly make our lives easier, but in reality our bodies digest and absorb vitamins and minerals using different processes, at varying speeds and at different points in our digestive system. Some are absorbed well in high doses, whilst others are best absorbed in small doses spread throughout the day.
Who are 1-a-day multi-vitamins suitable for?
1-a-day multivitamins may be sufficient for a healthy individual looking to top up their nutrient levels if they are already reaching most of their recommended nutrient intakes through a varied diet rich in organic, seasonal and local foods. For someone with a health condition aiming to absorb optimum levels of specific vitamins and minerals required in high quantities, they may be able to obtain these nutrients more efficiently by splitting the dose throughout the day because of the way in which nutrients are absorbed.
Absorption of vitamins and minerals
Why is it not optimal to dose up all of our vitamins and minerals in one go? The body is designed to digest food and, following this break-down, nutrients are then absorbed. If our diets were filled with a constant supply of nutrient-dense foods, our nutrient levels would be sufficient throughout the day. Unfortunately, our diets today mostly consist of refined foods which are low in nutrients; our diets are therefore commonly deficient in vitamins and minerals, explaining why we may turn to supplements to support nutrient levels.
Taking supplements with food is generally advised to mimic the natural uptake of vitamins and minerals; in addition to this, our bodies prefer to have a slow release of nutrients throughout the day rather than a one-hit rush of nutrition. The reason for the body’s preference to have a slow release of vitamins and minerals is that from food, we naturally obtain different vitamins and minerals staggered throughout the day. Combining certain vitamins and minerals can also sometimes enhance absorption; as an example, having vitamin C-rich foods alongside an iron supplement can actually increase absorption of the iron.
As our bodies are much more efficient at absorbing low levels of nutrients, absorbing high doses of supplementary vitamins at one time can be difficult as the gut can often not take in this much in one go. The majority of nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, with only a certain amount able be taken up by the cells of the intestinal lining at any one time.
Side effects of single high dose vitamins and minerals
As our digestive systems are not always equipped to deal with such high single doses of vitamins and minerals, it is common for some individuals to experience side effects, including stomach upset such as nausea and bloating. Excess vitamin C (more than 2g) at any one time can cause diarrhoea, whilst excess calcium in a single dose can cause constipation in some individuals. It is simply not natural for our bodies to obtain this much nutrition from one meal, so it can come as bit of a shock to an already sensitive digestive system to overload it in this way. Keeping nutrient levels in supplements in line with what our bodies could achieve from the diet is a good way to ensure that such side effects won’t occur, and that absorption can be optimal.
Not all vitamins can be stored
The majority of vitamins are water soluble (except for fat soluble vitamin A, D, E and K) which means that they are not stored for a long time in the body, and are readily used when they are in the system. This is particularly true for vitamin C, which can be flushed out through urine quite quickly. Having a steady dose throughout the day is therefore far more beneficial for us, as our cells can then be exposed to the high levels of antioxidants throughout the day, to help repair cellular damage and keep the immune system strong on a constant basis.
Key vitamins and minerals which are best to split-dose
Vitamin B12 is absorbed very differently from other vitamins as it requires the ‘intrinsic factor’ to be released in the stomach, allowing for vitamin B12 absorption in the large intestine. For individuals who may be lacking in intrinsic factor, for example in someone with gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), absorption may be limited to only small doses of vitamin B12.
To overcome this common difficulty in absorption of high doses of vitamin B12, our supplement ‘Homocysteine control’, provides vitamin B12 in smaller dose tablets, which can therefore be split into 2-3 tablets per day. This allows absorption issues to be overcome and optimises absorption of vitamin B12, even for those with suboptimal production of the intrinsic factor.
Our other supplements containing vitamins and minerals which are also best absorbed in smaller doses, are provided in the split dose form, including our ‘Neurobalance’ supplement containing a unique blend of zinc, magnesium and B6, targeted for brain health in small tablets designed to be taken at different times of the day, such as with breakfast and with dinner.
Omega-3 EPA is also absorbed most efficiently when the dose is split throughout the day. As a portion of oily fish provides approximately 300-500mg of omega-3 EPA and DHA, our bodies are quite efficient at absorbing this level. If you are taking 1000mg omega-3 EPA (the dose in 2 capsules of Pharmepa step 1), absorption may be optimal if one capsule is taken with breakfast and one with dinner. Omega-3 EPA is always best absorbed with food as you will be naturally producing bile and digestive enzymes to support the digestion process.
Cost effectiveness of split dosing
It may seem that cost per dose on a supplement pot is all that you need to think about when comparing prices, but you should be considering how much of the supplement you are actually going to be absorbing in relation to the price. Supplementing with a lower dose more frequently throughout the day may increase your body’s nutrient status much more effectively than having a one-off (and frequently more expensive) high dose. The cost effectiveness of split dosing your supplements is just another bonus.
Split up your supplements!
Given the numerous reasons – of enhanced absorbability, a more natural slow release of nutrition, reduced risk of digestive discomfort, and reduced cost of supplements due to a lower dose required to reach healthy nutrient levels in your body – split dosing is the preferred method to supplement. If you find it hard to fit in regular supplementation throughout the day, try getting into the routine of at least splitting your supplement dose into two, having some with breakfast and the rest with dinner. Carrying a pill box with separate sections throughout the day can give you a little reminder of when to take your supplements too.