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Cheat Your Supplements: What Works, What Doesn’t

Cheat Your Supplements 1 f

If you suffer from the morning rush syndrome Monday through Friday, I empathize with you. I’m not a natural morning person (see this week’s earlier post for more evidence than you need!) and some of my kids aren’t either, so the process of getting ready for school, eating breakfast and making sure lunches and snacks are packed to go can take us right up until time to leave for the bus.

Getting out a spoon and taking probiotics, cod liver oil and NR Glow or other immune-boosters from TriLight Health in the winter often takes 3-5 minutes I just can’t scrounge up.

I’d like to believe that I can still do right by my kids by giving them a double dose on Saturday and Sunday when things are slightly less hectic. Doesn’t that sound like a good deal? Let’s explore whether “stocking up” on vitamins in your body is possible or not…

This post is sponsored by TriLight Health.

Can I Take My Supplements Only on Weekends?

As I mentioned in the sleep post, the idea for this came about when I was pondering the popular wisdom that you can’t catch up on sleep and the tip my friend gave me that you can catch up on cod liver oil, since the body stores Vitamin D. I started to wonder what else it might hang on to without telling us and how I might exploit that for my breakfast-rush pleasure…

It turns out that some nutrients are good for “stocking up” just like dry beans and cans of tuna, whereas others are more like lettuce that will go mushy in the produce drawer if you buy a month’s worth at a time.

RELATED: High Quality Fish Oils

Vitamin D

You can store up Vitamin D for months
Why is D important? Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, immunity, mineral absorption and much, much more.

Can I stock up? YES.

How does it work? Vitamin D, which is really a hormone, not a vitamin, is fat-soluble, so your body is able to not only store it for potentially up to 2-3 months, but also to synthesize it without food sources using the sun.

People rarely get a sufficient amount from the sun alone, and since receptors exist for Vitamin D in every cell of your body, or at least over 36 organs (sources vary), it’s uber vital for your whole body health. Some health professionals worry that if people try to get adequate Vitamin D from the sun, they’ll increase their risk of skin cancer too much, and sunscreens do block over 90% of Vitamin D absorption, even at SPFs as low as 8 or 15. It’s wise to supplement Vitamin D, especially in the winter and in northern climates.

The kidney and liver are vital for the body to be able to synthesize and/or utilize any Vitamin D, not matter how you take it in, so their health is important – remember our conversation on sleep?

The bottom line: Vitamin D receptors are in over 36 organs, way up from the 4-5 discovered in the 1970s. Authors of Vitamin D studies predict that more and more problems will begin to be connected to Vitamin D deficiencies. It’s very hard to get Vitamin D from foods, and even supplements are hit and miss, but it’s also very hard to achieve an overdose of D (toxicity), so it doesn’t seem like triple-dosing cod liver oil, which isn’t supremely high in Vitamin D anyway, can do much harm. You can take a whole bunch on the weekends and get away with it.

Note: It actually IS possible to get too much omega 3 fat, but the evidence is based on mega-dosing of supplemental omega 3s, not real food like cod liver oil. I can’t say for sure (remember- I’m not a doctor, nurse, or anyone important, just another mom, so no medical advice here!) but my guess is that you’d be hard pressed to take so much FCLO that you actually caused omega 3 overload problems for yourself. (source)

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Vitamins A, E, and K

Why are they important? Vitamin A regulates cell growth and development including healthy skin, hair and tissues, and it is vital for good vision and immunity.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that supports the respiratory system, boosts the immune system, supports the brain and plays a role in regulating enzymes.

Vitamin K’s main responsibility is to help blood to clot properly, and it may help maintain strong bones in the elderly.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Can I stock up? YES.

The bottom line: Just like with Vitamin D, Vitamins A, E, and K are fat-soluble, which means the body can store them. Vitamin K can even be made by the bacteria in your intestines, so as long as those are in good order, it would be rare to have a K deficiency.

You’d likely never overdose from food sources, but if you’re taking supplements for any of these, it is possible to build up a toxicity level, so it’s important not to take too much. (source)

Vitamins B and C

strawberry picking 2011a

Why is it important? There are actually 8 B vitamins, all of which are related but serve very different purposes. Collectively they support metabolism, red blood cells, and cell metabolism.

Individually, B1 (thiamin) helps generate energy from carbohydrates, B2 (riboflavin) supports fatty acid use in the body and other functions, B3 (niacin) plays an important role in metabolizing glucose, fat and alcohol, B5 is busy: oxidizing fatty acids and carbs and synthesizing amino acids, fatty acids, cholesterol, hormones, neurotransmitters and antibodies. Phew!

Vitamin B6 also supports digestion and synthesizes neurotransmitters and hemoglobin, B7 (biotin) helps metabolize all foods, B9 (folic acid) is vital for normal cell division, particularly important during pregnancy and infancy, and finally Vitamin B12 helps produce blood cells in bone marrow, nerves and proteins, and when deficient, people become anemic.

Vitamin C, an important antioxidant, is also vital for growth and repair of all tissues, including skin, blood vessels, bones and teeth. Practically it reduces arterial plaque, slows the effects of aging and increases immunity to disease. Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Can I stock up? NO.

How does it work? Because Vitamin C and the B vitamins are water-soluble, any that your body can’t use right away is excreted, and the Bs can’t be stored in the body at all. Vitamin C can actually be stored in the adrenal glands for 3-4 months. (source) EDIT: A reader shares in the comments that B12 is another exception and can be stored for about a month in the liver.

The bottom line: The good news is that you really can’t overdose on these vitamins; the bad news is that you likely can’t cram it into one weekend vitamin-fest. (Although I’m having trouble grasping what this adrenal gland/Vitamin C thing really means in practice…)

Check out these DIY Vitamin C Gummies from our contributor, Jamie! Yum-O and well absorbed! Not hard to eat them every day…

Magnesium

Why is it important? Magnesium combats inflammation, which means it’s vital in many parts of the body for various functions. 68-80% of Americans are estimated to be low in magnesium, up to 8 million people.

Without magnesium, only 30-50% of that which is consumed is absorbed by the body, we couldn’t use calcium as we need either, causing a double deficiency. Magnesium is used in more than 300 chemical reactions in the body. Some say it’s one of the most important nutrients for good health.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Can I stock up?  MAYBE

Blue Green minerals with calcium and magnesiumHow does it work? Magnesium is absorbed more effectively by the body in soluble forms (like TLH’s liquid Blue Green Minerals with Calcium and Magnesium). But tons of foods inhibit or reduce our absorption of magnesium, like refined grains, dry roasted nuts, sugar, even veggies like kale, plus common prescriptions like birth control.

Since about half of your body’s magnesium is stored in your bones, you’ve likely always got some on hand. However, since so many diets are deficient in magnesium and it’s so vital to health, it seems to me that we should shoot to get it as often as as much as possible.

RELATED: Best Form of Magnesium & Magnesium in Kids

The bottom line: It’s possible to overdose on magnesium, but only at very high levels of supplementation, not from food. The 250 mg of magnesium citrate in TLH’s Blue Green Minerals is a level that’s totally safe and also one of the forms more easily absorbed and used by the body. You can also supplement magnesium through body sprays and soaking in Epsom salt baths (both absorbing through the skin) . Since magnesium is really important for the proper synthesis of calcium in the body, that’s just another reason to get enough and get it regularly.

Note: The absorption of magnesium (and pretty much all the other minerals on this list) is enhanced by appropriate levels of Vitamin D! Get your D somehow, folks…

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Where I Buy Magnesium

magnesium lotion shop

From sleep to morning sickness to constipation to muscle soreness, magnesium works wonders!

I found a gentle, yet effective, magnesium lotion that is safe for kids and a favorite of our whole family. One problem with some magnesium in oil form is those products can hurt sensitive skin or be itchy (yikes)! The Magnesium Lotion shop has a wonderful product that doesn’t burn or itch.

It’s so calming, and you can choose from original or lavender scent. It smells so good and has only ingredients you would want (magnesium oil, apricot oil, mango butter, beeswax), and none that you don’t!

Calcium

Why is it important? Calcium is, of course, important for strong bones and teeth and the prevention of osteoporosis. There aren’t really short-term ramifications of inadequate calcium, but in the long-term, it’s big trouble.

Can I stock up? NO.

How does it work? People really can’t absorb more than 500 mg of calcium at a time well, so even if you take a recommended 1000 mg/day, you should take 500 mg twice to optimize what your body can do with it. So clearly, taking a whole bunch on weekends is no good, plus getting too much at once (in supplement form) can cause constipation. Not worth an easy weekday morning for me!

Also, it’s important to note that the phytic acid in whole grains, nuts and seeds inhibits the absorption of calcium and magnesium, so if you’re eating those foods, reduce that problem by soaking them or using sourdough. More on that whole can of worms at my comprehensive soaking grains information page.

Sources: 1, 2

The bottom line: You definitely need to have adequate calcium, which many can get from food sources – but make sure you also have adequate magnesium and Vitamin D to maximize calcium’s absorption, both of which, of course, people struggle to get sufficiently without supplementation.

TriLight has a fascinating article on the  difference between absorption of organic vs. inorganic minerals to help you figure out the best form of calcium to take as a supplement. It’s a lot like some of the unusable multivitamins that are sold pretty cheaply in mainstream markets – some forms can pass right through you and not do much good.

TLH’s Blue Green Minerals was once called “Liquid Calcium” by a midwife who recommended it during pregnancy for calcium supplementation for breast health and strong bones. Here’s what they say about it:

To this mineral-rich, bone strengthening, highly bioavailable base of natural calcium and trace minerals, we have added ActiVinTM antioxidants and a boost in mineral content, vitamin C, Omega-3 oil, available protein, B-12 vitamins, essential amino acids and chlorophyll. Standardized Calcite SuperTM, a revolutionary new type of calcium created in Japan with a patented process for enhanced absorption, is the key component of the calcium level in this formula. Understanding the body’s need for Magnesium in Calcium absorption, we have intentionally added a Citrate form of Standardized Magnesium, which is also the most bioavailable and easily digestible form of magnesium on the market.

Zinc

Why is it important? Zinc is a major immunity booster (after 5 months of taking supplements regularly, studies found that people were far less likely to fall prey to the common cold), and it’s also necessary for wound healing, protein synthesis, enzyme activity, to synthesize DNA, and for healthy growth particularly during adolescence, childhood and pregnancy.

Can I stock up? NO.

How does it work? Your body has no way to store zinc, so you need a daily supply, plain and simple.

The bottom line: Foods high in zinc include oysters, pumpkin seeds (I’m always grateful to have many on hand in early fall!), red meat, spinach, cocoa, poultry, and some in whole grain, beans, nuts (cashews (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) and peanuts especially) and dairy. It’s better to get zinc from animals sources than plants if you’re deficient.

As far as supplements go, TriLight has a basic liquid vitamin that includes zinc along with a bunch of other easily absorbable vital nutrients: Herbal Minerals Prenatal Vitamin — it’s not just for pregnancy but also good for kids. I’m seriously thinking I need to get my hands on some of this – or the cal/mag version above – to support this pregnancy especially as we get busy/traveling this summer and my diet might not be as ideal as I’d like!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Probiotics

Miessence Probiotic Superfoods
Why is it important? Speaking of healthy gut bacteria, your digestion and many other systems in your body depend on your microbiome, the trillions of bacteria who co-exist with you inside your body. There will always be some “bad guys” and some “good guys” in there.

The right balance, and you’ll find radiant health. Too many bad bacteria and not enough probiotics (good bacteria), and you may encounter digestive issues, weight gain, food sensitivities, auto-immune diseases and a host of other issues about which scientists are just now barely scratching the surface.

Can I stock up? NO.

How does it work? Since your gut bacteria are affected by what you eat, and we eat multiple times daily, it’s important to keep probiotics entering the system regularly as well. Most recommendations suggest having probiotics with every meal, optimally about 30 minutes before eating, actually, to give the gut time to assimilate the good guys before being barraged with all the other food.

The bottom line: If you can’t get probiotic supplements or cultured foods at every meal, shoot for at least once a day.

If you have whole food based probiotics like the ones my family takes, I’m fairly certain you can’t overdose with long-term negative health effects, but you might see diarrhea if you introduce too much, too fast. Just listen to your body and back off a little. For some conditions, like candida, the formulator of the Miessence probiotics recommends mega-dosing with the Fast Tract Liquid.

Antioxidants

Blueberries are high in antioxidants

Why is it important? If probiotics are a bit like the infantry fighting bad guys in my body, I think of antioxidants kind of like my clean-up crew, maybe the medical staff cleaning up after a battle or better yet, like the covert team on Person of Interest who make all the problems go away before people even know they’re in trouble.

All day long, your body is creating free radicals, which are unbalanced and can cause “oxidative stress” in the body, wreaking havoc from wrinkled skin to cancer and beyond. Antioxidants are literally the antidote – they “fix” free radicals, stabilizing their electrons and both preventing and repairing damage from oxidative stress.

Our environment can really increase free radicals, including sun exposure, smoking and secondhand smoke, alcohol, processed foods, and even our own metabolism and rate of stress. Published rates of food-based antioxidant intake have decreased by almost 20-fold in Americans since the 1970s.

Can I stock up? NO.

How does it work? Most sources say one cannot store antioxidants – since they’re needed in the moment, all the time, you really should have a constant supply. Top studied antioxidants include Vitamins C, E and A plus selenium, a trace mineral. There are many others and more we probably don’t even know about, so eating as many fresh fruits and veggies as you can is very important.

The bottom line: There is neither a daily recommended value for antioxidants nor an established rate at which intake becomes dangerous. So although you still need a constant supply, you can’t really overdo it!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Flavonoids

CSA greens carrot kohlrabi vegetables, supplement tips

Why is it important? Flavonoids function as antioxidants plus some. They strengthen blood vessels, protect cells from oxidative damage, and prevent excessive inflammation in the whole body. Many immune-supporting cells in the body actually alter their behavior (for the good) when flavonoids are present.

Some flavonoids even increase antihistamine and antimicrobial response, improve memory and mood — and the most exciting part, in my opinion, is that science has barely scratched the surface of what flavonoids do and where they are found. One more reason to eat foods in their whole form as often as possible!

Can I stock up? NO.

How does it work? Because flavonoids do so many good works in the body, including the antioxidative task of protecting from free radicals, a human being really does need a steady supply. Many whole foods include flavonoids – here is a list of healthy foods, plenty for many and varied real food meals!

Cool note: There was a study done that found that daily dark chocolate improved blood flow over just two weeks, possibly because of the flavonoid content in the cocoa (which can be messed up by processing, but many high quality chocolate manufacturers list flavonoid or antioxidant content nowadays. Only high percentage dark chocolate counts, by the way…and be sure to look for fair trade whenever possible)

The bottom line: Seriously, it’s clearly very important to eat rich sources of fruits and veggies in their whole forms daily. You can find flavonoids in whole-foods based supplements as well. For example, Propolis (royal bee jelly) is a rich source of flavonoids and very easy to take. I rely on a few drops in the throat when I feel a cold coming on and use it as an anti-inflammatory for skin rashes and eczema as well as getting rid of warts.

Sources: 1, 2

What Now?

Phew! I was a bit disappointed to find that most nutrients need to be obtained in a pretty steady supply, whether through whole foods or supplementation. (Phooey.)

However, it makes sense. Our bodies are made to eat multiple times a day, so of course there’s a reason for that, unlike alligators, who can store enough nourishment that they can go 6 months to a year without food.

I think the bottom line is that you might be able to get away with mega-dosing on cod liver oil or Vitamin D, A, E or K on the weekends, but for a daily multi-vitamin and minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc, you need some during the week, too.

Eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, well-sourced protein like pastured eggs, wild seafood and organic meat and dairy, and whole grains, properly prepared, if you can handle them…and consider a multi-vitamin including easily absorbed forms of vitamins and minerals, since (a) your diet probably is not ideal (raises hand here), and (b) the soil quality these days truly “isn’t what it used to be.” Even organically grown food often has less mineral content than decades ago, so you’re fighting a losing battle even with the best of diets.

I’m getting my hands on some Blue Green Minerals with Calcium and Magnesium for our family!

What are the supplements that you choose to take? Do you focus on any particular foods for nutrients or just try to eat a balanced diet?

Cheat your Supplements weekend
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.
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22 thoughts on “Cheat Your Supplements: What Works, What Doesn’t”

  1. Vitamin D deficiency is a major health hazard. The best source of information on vitamin D can be found at: vitamindcouncil.org

    It was founded in 2003 by John J. Cannell, MD. The best dietary sources of vitamin D are fish, eggs and orange juice.

  2. I recently started giving my 6 yr old a daily chewable probiotic to help her gut heal from multiple food sensitives and eczema. After starting to take it she has been complaining on vaginal/rectal itching (sorry if that’s TMI). I’m thinking it seems like yeast. Is it possible that taking the probiotic can cause that effect? I thought it would do the opposite. Any experience with that?

  3. As I understand it, you can’t overdose on magnesium. You excrete it with your stool. So if you get too much, you’ll get the runs, but that’s about it.

    I can testify it doesn’t last long, though — if I skip a day, the deficiency symptoms come right back.

    I take my vitamins at night, right before toothbrushing. That way I never forget!

  4. I’ve been wanting to start taking FCLO, and am finally ready to make the leap! Has anyone tried or have thoughts on the infused coconut oil version? (http://www.greenpasture.org/public/Products/InfusedCoconutOil/index.cfm)

    1. I’ve tried the infused coconut oil FCLO version, and I think it is fine. But I haven’t tried anything else from green pastures. I have only tried the unflavored version. I have no problem swallowing it. I first take a drink of either coconut milk or almond milk, then take the infused FCLO, and then follow it up with more coconut or almond milk.

      I did find, though, that I can only take it if it’s liquid. I couldn’t swallow it partially solid, or completely solid. It was more of a texture thing for me…

      But I haven’t been able to really figure out what I’m getting in the half tablespoon I take (like how much approximately of Vit A, D, EPA/DHA)…Or how much of the infused is recommended for children per day…

  5. Another plus for magnesium: it can help with muscle cramps. I took it during my last pregnancy to help with foot and calf cramps. About vitamin A, I would not recommend supplementing with it during pregnancy, because it can cause birth defects. Naturally occurring vitamin A in the form of beta carotene is less likely to cause toxicity.

    1. Beta carotene is NOT vitamin A. It is a vitamin A precursor, and almost half of Americans lack the ability to effectively convert it to vitamin A. One of the best food sources of real vitamin A is butter.

  6. A study just came out (check KellyMom’s facebook page for it) that found breastfeeding moms need to take vtm D everyday – otherwise it won’t consistently end up in your milk.

    I hypothesize that the same would be true for other fat so liable vitamins.

    1. Elisabeth,
      Whoops! Thanks for the note – that one was on a doc with research from late spring, and I bet I didn’t even check the link since that wasn’t so long ago. Found an even more extensive list here and will fix the dead link- www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/Flav/flav.html.

      🙂 Katie

  7. Blair Massey

    Hi Katie: I want to mention that there are two vitamin Ks. K1 and K2. K1 is for blood clotting and K2 is for calcium absorption and distribution. It actually does a lot more than that, May I suggest the Book “Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox.”

    1. Thanks Blair! Now that you say it, I know I read about those a few years ago while learning about the K2 I think in grassfed butter, but in the research for this post it was never differentiated. How strange…but good to have the reminder! 🙂 katie

  8. So good to know I’m not the only one with this problem! Technically it takes 1 min to give supplements to four kids, but somehow it often doesn’t happen. I had plans for daily magnesium oil rub downs too…I guess I’ll have to try tomorrow 🙂 Good to know what I can stock the kids up on, even though I keep hoping I’ll become consistent someday.

  9. Hi Katie! Thanks for the post…this is great to know because with two kids under 3 it is hard for me to remember to eat, let alone get my supplements in everyday! However, I wanted to offer a correction. I have pernicious anemia (also known as lacking the intrinsic factor), which basically means due to an auto-immune response my body does not absorb B12 naturally through food. As a treatment, I have to have a huge dose of B12 by injection once a month. When the doctors explained the condition and through my own research, I learned that the body actually stores B12 for years, which is why it can take some time for this condition to be diagnosed. According to this source (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002403.htm), B12 is stored in the liver. So, apparently B12 is the exception to the general rule that B vitamins are water-soluble and required every day. Hope this helps!

      1. B6 can also be stored in the body, especially its synthetic form, pyridoxine HCL or hydrochloride. The literature needs to change on this. Taking too much B6 can cause vitamin B6 toxicity with symptoms that mimic B6. The excess B6 gets stored in muscle and tissue. Animals can’t make b vitamins either, that’s why farmers put synthetic n vitamins in their feed. B6 actually works like a growth hormone in animals. They eat the synthetic B6, it stores in their muscle, we eat their muscle, it stores in our muscle. Then there’s those popular energy drinks. They are full of synthetic B6, as are protein shakes and bars, smoothie mixes, vitamin waters, some sleep aids, and grains and cereals (aka fortified or enriched foods). Vitamin B6 toxicity literature says toxicity can only happen with upper intake of 200 mg a day. This is also a myth. Please research Vitamin B6 toxicity and correct your article. It is not always “water soluble.” I have a group on Facebook called “Exploring B6 Toxicity.” We have hundreds of very sick members suffering from a laundry list of neurological problems, all from vitamin B6. Thank you.

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