8 Nutrients You Shouldn’t Take in Pill Form

Did you know that your old standby of pills may not always be the wisest choice for supplements? Here's when you should drink your nutrients.

Supplements come in so many forms these days: You can get them in pills, tablets, capsules, powders, gummies, and liquids. So what’s the best way to get your nutrients? Well, before deciding to take a supplement, your best bet is to try to get your nutrients from food. Eating a healthy diet can deliver a lot of other beneficial nutrients along with the specific vitamin or mineral you might be interested in. However, if your healthcare provider recommends a vitamin or supplement, you may want to choose one type over another (say gummies, instead of a capsule). Here are some things to  keep in mind—other than personal preference—when choosing vitamins and supplements.

Pills might not dissolve

Poorly made pills may not break apart in your digestive tract and can pass right through you, says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab.com, an independent supplement testing organization in White Plains, New York. “Vitamin pills are supposed to disintegrate within 30 minutes, but if they aren’t made right, they don’t break apart and fully release the ingredients.”

You can test your pills by placing one in warm (not boiling) water and mixing it with a spoon for up to 30 minutes, making sure the spoon taps the vitamin. “If it doesn’t break apart completely, there is a problem,” says Dr. Cooperman.

Even if the supplement breaks up, there are still some nutrients you shouldn’t take as a pill:

Liquid: Fat-soluble vitamins—A, D, E, and K

Your body will absorb these vitamins more readily when you get them alongside some fat-containing foods, Dr. Cooperman says. “These vitamins should be taken as a liquid or powder sprinkled over your breakfast—that will help you remember to take them with food.” (Vitamin D is just one of the supplements that many doctors make sure to take, too.)

Liquid: Apple cider vinegar

Many people take apple cider vinegar to reduce inflammation, improve digestion or stabilize their blood sugar levels, usually in a small shot glass as a liquid, while others prefer a pill. “The problem with apple cider vinegar pills is that the concentration of the acetic acid in the pill may be too high and can be dangerous and irritate the esophagus,” says Dr. Cooperman. ConsumerLab did a study and found the concentration of acetic acid in pills ranged from just 0.4 percent to more than 30 percent. Products containing more than 20 percent acetic acid must carry warning labels due to their potentially corrosive nature.

Liquid: Melatonin

If you take melatonin to get a good night’s sleep, you’ll likely want it to work fast. “If you take it as a liquid, it kicks in quicker because you don’t have to wait for it to break down,” Dr. Cooperman explains. Here are some other ways to make your vitamins more effective.

Liquid: For higher doses, such as fish oil or fiber

Another reason to avoid the pill form of a vitamin or supplement is when you are taking ultra-high doses, Dr. Cooperman says. Many people take up to six fish-oil pill tablets a day; taking the nutrient as a liquid is wiser and easier than popping handfuls of large pills. (Bonus: many fish oil liquids are now formulated to be free of that seafood flavor and can seamlessly be added to smoothies and salads). Fiber falls into this category, says Dr. Cooperman. “It’s better to mix a powder into liquids than to take several large pills daily.”

Liquid vitamins aren’t always the best solution, though. Some vitamins such as vitamin C and folic acid may be less stable in liquid form, and that could mean you’re getting less of the active ingredient, Dr. Cooperman says. Other liquids may require refrigeration, which would make them difficult to travel with. Check out the 12 vitamin mistakes you don’t realize you’re making.

Sources
  • Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab.com, an independent supplement testing organization in White Plains, New York
  • ConsumerLab: "Vitamins & Supplements Being Affected by Heat"
  • ConsumerLab: "B Vitamin Supplements Review (B Complexes, B6, B12, Biotin, Folate, Niacin, Riboflavin & More)"
  • ConsumerLab: "Vitamin C Supplements Review"

Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in WebMD, HealthDay, and other consumer health portals. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (for a cover story she wrote in Plastic Surgery Practice magazine); and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. She was part of the writing team awarded a 2008 Sigma Delta Chi award for her part in a WebMD series on autism. Her first foray into health reporting was with the Medical Tribune News Service, where her articles appeared regularly in such newspapers as the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, and Los Angeles Daily News. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu.