The million-dollar question, how long will it take? As humans, we like predictability and certainty and it's the same thing around our health. Though it can take several weeks to observe a noticeable effect this doesn't mean that the vitamin in question is not working, change just takes time. The brand and quality of the supplement will of course determine its efficacy and should always be taken into consideration. There are many cheap supplements on the market but when it comes to health, you do get what you pay for. Always look for reputable brands and companies that provide high quality supplements in order to get the most out of your vitamins!
The efficiency of vitamin supplements will depend on a number of factors:
If you are severely depleted in a vitamin or mineral it will likely take a longer period of time to notice the effects as your stores are burning significantly low. This will also depend on the dosage that you are taking to rectify the deficiency and get your stores back up to optimal blood levels. Remember higher amounts of vitamins aren't necessarily better and can actually be quite harmful if you reach toxic levels. Always verify with your healthcare provider to assess the best dosage for you and your needs.
There are many different types and forms of a supplement. For instance, active types of vitamins will be more easily and effectively absorbed into the bloodstream compared to inactive vitamins.
For example, methylcobalamin is a more absorbable form of vitamin B12 versus cyanocobalamin.
You can also find a supplement in capsule, tablet, powder, or liquid form which will additionally impact the rate of absorption of supplements. It may come as no surprise that a powder or liquid will be more easily and quickly broken down by the body compared to something like a tablet or capsule.
3. Water vs fat-soluble vitamins
Other factors that will impact the rate of absorption are whether the vitamin is water soluble or fat soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins dissolve into water and are easily absorbed into tissues but also more easily lost. This means that they are absorbed slightly faster into the body than their fat soluble counterparts.
Fat soluble vitamins, on the other hand, typically take a little longer to be absorbed and are stored for longer inside of the body. These are the vitamins A,D,E, and K and require a dietary fat to be absorbed. Often times they are paired with a fat inside of the supplement itself or recommended to take with a meal that contains a fat source.
Though we can isolate vitamins and minerals, they do exist synergistically in nature for a reason. Nutrients interact with one another by either competing for or enhancing absorption.
Vitamin D and calcium are good examples of pairings that work together. In order to adequately absorb the mineral calcium into the bone, the body needs sufficient vitamin D levels. If the body lacks levels of vitamin D in order to absorb calcium from the diet it will pull calcium from the bones instead, leading to poor bone health and preventing the formation of strong bones to occur. This is why a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is an important part of osteoporosis prevention.
Iron and vitamin C are additional pairings that can work together to enhance nutrient status (1).
In order to best absorb iron, especially from plant sources, adding a vitamin C rich food such as broccoli, orange juice, spinach, or bell peppers is a good way to boost absorption of this mineral.
Supplements will really only work their best when they are combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle habits.
If your current diet is not supporting your overall health than it's important to start there! You know what they say, you can't out supplement an unhealthy diet and way of living, it just doesn't work that way.
Unhealthy habits such as smoking, alcohol, lack of sleep, excess caffeine can all negatively impact absorption and increase the body's need for nutrients. High stress can also deplete the body of nutrients. Magnesium status is a prime example as low levels are highly associated with increased levels of stress (2).
Alcoholism can result in many nutrient deficiencies due to a variety of reasons such as decreased nutrition, impaired absorption, gastrointestinal inflammation, or loss through increased urinary excretion, vomiting, or diarrhea (3). Nutrient deficiencies that are more commonly associated with increased alcohol consumption are the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E,K as well as calcium, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, and iron.
Smoking has been associated with lower levels of vitamin C, B-carotene, vitamin E, selenium, and B vitamins (4).
Dietary intake of plenty of fruits and vegetables, quality protein, and healthy fats such as omega 3 fatty acids can help you to obtain nutrients from your food but also improve nutrient absorption from your supplements. Do not underestimate the power of a healthy and balanced diet!
Health conditions can also impact the body's absorption rate, especially issues with digestive health. Inflammatory digestive conditions such as Crohn's disease and celiac disease will make it harder for the nutrients to be absorbed through the intestinal walls. But even if you don't have a digestive condition it's essential to work on gut health in order to get the most out of your food and supplements.
When you are experiencing chronic health issues you will likely have an increased need for nutrients and this is where strategic supplementation can help to support while you work on the underlying root cause with a health care provider. Receiving optimal nutrients will be a key part in supporting your body on your healing journey.
What are signs that vitamins are working?
No one wants to be wasting money on supplements, so how can you know they're truly working for you? There are many signs that can indicate that your vitamins are doing their job and that your body is benefitting, and it's up to you to pay attention. These may include increased energy, improved mood, less sick days, shorter cold or flu duration, decreased cravings, improved weight balance, or improved sleep.
In summary if you are noticing that you are feeling better and the original symptoms you were trying to overcome are decreasing or dissipating, this is a good sign!
A good way to track your progress is to rate the severity of the symptom on a scale of 1-10 before taking the supplement, and then re-assessing weekly.
If you are taking a vitamin or mineral to correct a deficiency we recommend tracking your levels with your doctor in order to verify if it is actually working and when it is a good time to wean off.
We typically recommend starting one supplement at a time in order to properly gauge its effects.
Individual vitamins vs multivitamins
Should you be taking a separate supplement or a multivitamin, that is the question!
Well the answer is, it depends.
Most often vitamins and minerals will be recommended individually if there is a specific nutrient deficiency. The most commonly prescribed ones are iron, magnesium, vitamin B12, folate, vitamin D, and vitamin C.
If you require specific support in a certain area of health then an individual supplement is probably the best bet for you though always consult with your health care provider if you are unsure.
On the other hand, if you are wanting to improve your overall nutritional status and cover your bases, especially if your diet isn't optimal, then a multivitamin might be the right choice for you. This is more cost effective however the dosing of nutrients will be lower across the board. Multivitamins are a convenient form of safety net to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients you need daily, however they do not replace a healthy and balanced diet.
How long should you wait before switching vitamins?
If you are wondering if you should switch up your vitamins because you don't think they are beneficial to you, it's important to make a proper internal assessment. Sometimes improvements do take time and keep in mind that the factors above will also play a part in the results you experience.
Usually you will want to take a supplement over a span of a few weeks or months to really get the benefits and before crossing it off and trying something new, however this will look a bit different for each person. When in doubt check in with your practitioner on the best course of action for you.
About the Author
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.