Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
Wandering the vitamin and supplement aisle of a pharmacy can make it seem like the answer to great health is just a pill away. Row upon row of brightly colored bottles promise to do everything from strengthen your locks (hello, vitamin C) to boost your energy and make your skin glow (stock up on fish oil). But if you're part of the 161 million Americans who take some form of supplement each day, there are a few key facts you need to know to get the most from the tiny pill.
"It's always important to take note of what your supplements contain and why," says Dr. Ronald Moy. "You should be on the lookout for how ingredients can enhance each other or react with each other—especially if you're on any prescription medication or have serious allergies."
While we're well-versed in the supplements that should never be mixed, Dr. Moy says that combining the right pills with vitamin-rich food can help with potency and absorption. "Certain vitamin interactions can be beneficial, especially when you have a target issue you are trying to address." Try these expert-approved pairings to get the most from your daily dose.
Iron + Vitamin C
Look beyond pill form when combining vitamin C and iron, says Keri Glassman, nutritionist and founder of Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School. "Vitamin C helps absorb iron. This is especially important when consuming non-heme iron [which is] iron found in plant foods," she explains. Iron found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts is less efficiently absorbed by the body, so take a vitamin C supplement or add foods like peppers, oranges, and broccoli to your diet to reap the benefits.
Calcium + Vitamin D
Calcium is essential for strong bones and to ensure your heart, muscles, and nerves function properly. If you struggle with low levels of calcium, The National Institutes of Health suggests vitamin D could help increase your body's ability to absorb calcium from foods and supplements. Be sure to see a medical professional first, though, says Glassman. "Supplementation is to do just that, supp-lement the diet. Eating foods in their whole real form is what best supports proper digestion and absorption of nutrients," she recommends.
Folic Acid + Vitamin C
A 2007 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking vitamin C and folate supplements could "improve blood folate levels and could have implications for folic acid fortification." Dr. Moy explains, "Vitamin C supplementation may increase the uptake of folic acid. [This] combination boosts the absorption of the partner nutrient which is why it can be beneficial." Add dark leafy greens, citrus fruit, and avocado to your cart to load up on folate, naturally.