Do I Need Vitamins and When Should I Take Them?

Hello, Nell,
I take vitamins but don’t always  follow the directions, such as “take two pills, three times a day”.   I tend to just take all my vitamins at night. Vitamins and supplements cost a lot and I just want to get all the bang for the buck I can, not to mention the benefit I hope they are giving my body.   What is the best time to take vitamins and do I actually need to be taking them?
Thank you,

Thank you for this question, Tonya!  We are certainly led to believe that we need vitamins and supplements, and for some, the thinking is the more the better.  Take a peek down the vitamin aisle at my favorite store for food, Whole Foods, and you’ll see thousands of pills, tablets and powders all indicated for one health benefit or another.

Certainly, there are many gains to be made by taking certain herbs, tinctures or other natural remedies for specific ailments, but those should be closely monitored by your naturopath, doctor or whomever is providing your care for whatever it was you sought treatment for in the first place.

As a whole, however, I am not a proponent of most people taking heaps of supplements and vitamins in place of simply adhering to the Paleo diet.  If one does so, the chances of having any vitamins or minerals lacking in the diet, generally speaking are far less than if one eats according to the good old “My Plate” theory.

Of course, there are situations which warrant a different approach, particularly if one does not follow the Paleo diet.

One example of ambient conditions creating a need for supplementation would be people living in areas with little sunlight might need to first be tested for their Vitamin D levels and then perhaps supplement.  I observed this first hand when I lived in Seattle for three years and many of my friends and colleagues found that they, indeed, had low Vitamin D levels.   They were also not Paleo.  I was already Paleo then, and got outside plenty to train and guess what?  My Vitamin D levels were normal.

Another factor which is actually addressed in Dr. Cordain’s second book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, is that in modern times, we are exposed to many unhealthy conditions in the atmosphere that our ancestors did not have to live with, such as exhaust fumes, a depleted ozone layer and second hand cigarette smoke. As such, taking an anti-oxidant supplement, as long as it’s food-based and does not contain fillers, would not be a bad idea.

Finally, given that most people do not likely get enough good fat in their diet, a fish oil supplement, rich in Omega 3s will help balance out the delicate ratio of the inflammatory Omega 6s we get when we eat things like nuts.

However, do keep in mind that vitamins and supplements should be considered extraneous.  As in, no, you cannot eat french fries, cheese nachos and soft drinks and then take a vitamin pill and pretend all is well and good.

The bottom line?  I recommend taking fish oil and perhaps an antioxidant supplement.  Most people can do so safely and without risk of toxic levels of anything building up.   Take them with food and be done with it.  If you do drink black coffee, don’t do so around the time you take these supplements as the caffeine will indeed block the absorption of some.

To summarize:  Stay Paleo and you won’t need vitamins!