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There is much confusion about when to take herbal supplements, vitamins and medications. Do you take them on an empty stomach or with food?

No matter what you take, you should be drinking a full glass of water to make sure the pill doesn’t linger in your esophagus and cause irritation.

When a dietary supplement, enzyme or medication states the directive to “take with food” it usually means to take while you’re eating, or a few minutes beforehand.  But since you have food in your gastrointestinal tract for a little while, it would be fine to take the item right after you eat. There’s no right or wrong. 

Take the following supplements with food

Ashwagandha: This popular adaptogen should be thought of a little bit like ‘food’ because it is an herb. All herbs should be taken with a snack or a meal in order to amplify the benefits and reduce nausea.
Multivitamins or pre-natal vitamins: There are so many constituents in these supplements, that it’s best to take them with food in order to minimize stomach upset and nausea.
CoQ10: Some people take this powerful antioxidant for cellular energy production to support their heart, pancreas, liver and brain. CoQ10 (ubiquinone) should be taken with food, or a fatty meal to speed absorption.

Selenium: This is taken for thyroid inflammation, bone health, prostate support and immune support.  It’s ideally taken with food.
Magnesium: Some people take magnesium for depression, regularity, reduction of leg cramps and blood pressure support. Like most minerals, taking magnesium with a snack can minimize diarrhea and stomach discomfort. 

Vitamin D: You can take this without regard to meals, according to the newest research, however most of the older scientific literature say to take it with food since it’s fat-soluble.
Fish oil: Some people take fish oil to help with cholesterol, triglycerides, depression and blood joint health. Taking fish oil supplements (EPA, DHA or both) with food or fatty meals is ideal because it boosts the absorption.

Take the following medications with food

Antacids: These help with heartburn or reflux. They should always be taken with food so that it can neutralize the acid that is secreted while you’re eating.
Amoxicillin: The most popular antibiotic, especially for children. I recommend it be given to toddlers and teens with food to reduce indigestion, nausea and vomiting.

Corticosteroids: These are used for pain, allergic reactions, rashes and overactive immune systems. These should always be taken with food or milk. Some examples include prednisone, hydrocortisone and dexamethasone.

Aspirin and Ibuprofen: Ideally these are taken with food.
Metformin: Taken for diabetes, this medication is best taken around meal time in order to reduce blood sugar levels after eating. 

Enzyme supplements or medications: Some people can’t digest food normally, so they take enzyme supplements which break down the starch, fat and protein in a meal. Take these with meals. If a medication (ie Creon) is required to restore pancreatic function, it needs to be taken with meals. 

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit SuzyCohen.com.

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