By Dr. Josh Axe
When we eat a meal that contains a mix of different nutrients, our bodies absorb vitamins and minerals in various amounts depending on the exact concoction that we’ve eaten. That’s because nutrients interact with each other, sometimes in complex ways.
Certain vitamins and minerals — whether eaten in food or take in supplement form— are capable of enhancing how well other nutrients are absorbed. But some combinations work against one another and can block absorption.
Vitamins and mineral interactions can be a bit confusing, but it’s useful to understand how different types affect one another because this helps guide you into establishing an effective dietary and supplement routine. As always, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation.
What Minerals and Vitamins Work Together?
Multivitamins can help to fill in nutritional gaps in your diet if you are unable to meet your needs through your diet alone. That being said, it’s still necessary to eat a balanced, nutritious diet, considering you may not absorb 100 percent of the nutrients you take in supplement form.
Here are the nutrients that have complementary effects and help one another to be utilized:
- B vitamins work together (such as in a B complex supplement that contains B12, folate, B6, etc.), so they can/should be taken together
- Vitamin C and iron (C helps the body absorb more iron, from both foods and supplements)
- Vitamin K and calcium (both support skeletal and heart health)
- Vitamin D and calcium (together support absorption, bone health and healthy immune system function)
- Vitamin E and C (antioxidants that together promote healthy cells)
- Electrolytes such as potassium and sodium (help to balance fluid levels together)
What Vitamins and Minerals Should Not Be Taken Together?
Generally speaking, you want to avoid taking high amounts of most individual vitamins or minerals with other nutrients.
That’s because some can compete with one another for absorption, blocking how well the body can use different kinds. (As always, be sure to check with your healthcare professional if you have specific supplement questions.)
Vitamins/minerals that ideally should NOT be taken together in higher amounts include:
- Vitamin C and vitamin B12
- Calcium and magnesium
- Iron and calcium
- Zinc and magnesium
- Copper and zinc
- Vitamin K and other vitamins (like C and E)
Now you might be thinking: How do I possibly take all of my supplements if there’s so many to avoid using in higher amounts? And when is the best time to take vitamins?
Instead of taking all your supplements at one time, such as in the morning, space them out between different meals. For example, take a probiotic first thing in the morning, a multivitamin with breakfast, extra minerals/vitamins such as zinc or vitamin C with lunch, then magnesium right before bed.
This spaced-out approach requires more thought and effort, but it can make a big difference in terms of how well your body uses the nutrients you’re providing it with.
What Supplement Combinations Should Be Avoided?
Magnesium is one of the most popular supplements, yet it interacts with other nutrients, including calcium, iron and zinc — all of which are found in most multivitamins. It’s best to space out magnesium as a single nutrient from other supplements if possible, such as by taking it at night alone.
If you take vitamin K in higher amounts, aim to take it alone (such as with lunch) separated from other vitamins.
The same goes for minerals in higher doses, such as zinc or iron: take these separately.
Finally, avoid taking “fat soluble” vitamins — which include vitamins A, E, K and D — on an empty stomach. These should be taken with a meal, specifically one that includes at least a small amount of fat (such as olive or coconut oil, whole-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, eggs and avocado) to support their absorption.
When Can I Take All of My Supplements at Once?
Multivitamins contain both fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins, so for the most benefits, take multis either in the morning with breakfast, or at night with dinner.
Even though some nutrients with multis will interact with one another, multis are still the most convenient supplement and the type that people are most likely to consistently take. That being said, remember to eat your vitamins and minerals too! A healthy diet with a variety of foods is key to meeting your nutritional needs.
If you have a sensitive stomach, try supplementing with a meal. In this case, supplementing at night with dinner may be the best approach.
As mentioned above, avoid taking large amounts of different nutrients with one another, including by spacing out intake of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc.
And to gain the most benefits from multivitamin and mineral supplements overall, choose multivitamins made from real food ingredients, which your body recognizes and can use most easily.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential OIls: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet, Collagen Diet and Ancient Remedies.