If you've ever wondered when you should be taking your vitamins — Breakfast? Lunch? Whenever you remember to? — the answer depends on the type of vitamins. If you're talking about a multivitamin (one vitamin that combines lots of other vitamins into one), then the best time of day is usually the morning, with your first meal. That's because vitamins are a synthetic substance and are best absorbed in your body when they are taken with food and its naturally occurring vitamins. Taking them in the morning creates the best chance they'll be absorbed into your system with the food that you eat throughout the day.
You may have heard of fat-soluble vitamins — these are vitamins that are stored in the body's fat tissue. These vitamins need to be taken with some sort of dietary fat (such as nuts) to be absorbed into your system. Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble vitamins. Another type of vitamin is a water-soluble vitamin, such as vitamins C and B, which are not stored in the body's fat tissue and if needed, must be replaced each day. Again, it's generally recommended to take vitamins in the morning, but the best time of day for you to take a multivitamin or any supplement is when you're most likely to remember to take it daily.
The only exception to this is B vitamins, which are known to help people trying to combat stress or fatigue. Since these are known as the energy vitamins, it's definitely better to take them in the morning, since taking them at night can interfere with a good night's sleep.
But do you need those supplements?
Which brings us to the controversial and central issue regarding vitamins in the first place — do we even need them at all? For many years, doctors advised taking a multivitamin to reach your recommended daily dose of vitamins and nutrients, especially if you weren't eating a balanced and nutritious diet — and let's face it, who is?
But some studies in recent years have shown that taking multivitamins may be unnecessary and even dangerous for some. One study published in 2008 showed that too much folic acid (which is in most multivitamins) can lead to prostate cancer. Another buzzed-about study published in 2011 followed thousands of women over 25 years and concluded that taking a multivitamin actually increased the risk of death.
Another thing to consider is that unlike prescription drugs, vitamins are not subject to approval or testing by the Food and Drug Administration before they go on the market. One way to check the safety of vitamins is to look for the USP Verified mark, which indicates a seal of approval from the U.S. Pharmacopeia-National Formulary, a nongovernment, nonprofit organization.
Let's also not forget that much of the food that we eat today is fortified with vitamins — eating vitamin-enriched foods on a daily basis and taking a multivitamin can take you over the top of the recommended dose of a certain vitamin. What should you do? Best to check with your doctor to see if you need to be taking supplements at all, and if you do, exactly which vitamins and how much of each you need to be taking.