How long does it take for a supplement to work?

How long does it take a supplement to start working?

A seemingly simple question with a fairly complex answer to be honest.

First and foremost, for our purposes here, let’s define “working,” as you feeling better and the signs and symptoms you were feeling prior to supplementation begin to notably dissipate.

For example, you were tired, cold and cranky all the time and your doctor diagnosed you as having iron deficiency anemia. You took a recommended iron supplement in addition to following your nutritionist’s dietary recommendations. 2 to 4 weeks later, you noticed a bit more pep in your step. What you’re doing is beginning to work! Air punches & Rocky Balboa victory arms all around!

That example is laden with some pretty suggestive hints on how to handle a deficiency:

There’s noticing your signs and symptoms.

Researching those symptoms and then discussing with your healthcare provider.

Tests would be done to confirm findings, at which time a supplement was recommended and you reached out to a nutrition professional for a nutrition deficiency.

Following all that up with taking the supplements and eating well — making you a perfect health student.

Acknowledging your improvement in health due to your hard work and celebrating with an homage to Stallone.

However, most of the time we read an article or blog that mentions symptoms we’re dealing with and then decide to take whatever supplement they mention. That can be a good thing, and in fact if it’s a credible source, this is actually how many start their journey towards health: it’s called self-advocacy.

The biggest factor that dictates how long before a supplement kicks in, is how deficient you are to begin with. Let’s say nutrient stores are like pools. If your pool is empty, it’s going to take longer to fill than if your pool is half or mostly full.

The next factor is how much of the supplement you are taking. Going back to our pool, it’s half full, but if you’re only putting in a 5 gallon bucket each day, it’s going to take a very long time to fill. And that’s not counting what the sun will evaporate and if you get sick of the pool never filling and give up.

If you get a high pressure fire hose involved you’re going to destroy the pool and probably get in trouble with the law for stealing the hose and hooking it up to a fire hydrant. There are no pools in prison. Taking ridiculous dosages of supplements is bad, m’kay.

The quality of the supplement comes in next. In the US there is no federal regulation on supplements, meaning purchases of vitamins, minerals and herbs are completely unregulated by the US government. All supplementation inspection of quality is optional and at the company’s expense. Reputable companies will pay that. If you’re trying to fill the pool with a hose that doesn’t function, it’s not going to fill.

Then comes the fact no one is an island. All nutrients need other nutrients for their absorption and utilization. If you’re supplementing with calcium, magnesium or zinc, yet deficient in vitamin D, you’re not absorbing those minerals. If you’re supplementing with iron, but deficiency in vitamin A (beta-carotene), several B vitamins, vitamin C or zinc, you’re having issues ranging from absorption to utilization.

What’s causing the deficiency in the first place? Why is your pool empty in the first place? Is it a genetic situation? Is it a side effect of a medication? Do you need to make dietary changes? Have you been stressed and not realized that essentially drains your body of many nutrients, especially zinc? If you don’t resolve what’s draining the pool, you may never top it off with water, let alone keep it topped off.

Best for last: remember that supplement means “in addition to,” not “in place of.” The nutrients we need for health are the same ones we’re intended to get from our food. If you don’t know how to do so, don’t feel dumb. Millions of Americans aren’t sure of this. Speak with a nutrition professional to pair your supplemental efforts with a healthy diet. While you get the hang of a new way of eating, your taking your supplements in addition to what you’re eating will help fill in the gaps.

A great example of all this is magnesium. The majority of Americans are deficient in this nutrient that is required in oved 300 enzymatic processes in the human body! As many, if not more, people are deficient in vitamin D, which is needed to absorb it.

Learning the signs and symptoms of deficiency, Bobby Lynn decides she’s deficient. She purchases a supplement only to have horrible nausea, cramping and diarrhea within an hour. Magnesium is hard to absorb (it’s a rock) and it’s an electrolyte, which throws off water balance (gastric misery).

She then stops taking a supplement and 3 weeks later is still feeling unwell. She decides to call a nutritionist, who reviews her dietary intake and feels Bobby Lynn isn’t eating very much magnesium.

She recommends that Bobby Lynn eat seeds, nuts and beans because they are magnesium powerhouses. She also advises Bobby Lynn to have her blood levels of vitamin D assessed and in the interim start taking the standard recommended level.

She advises Bobby Lynn to switch to a different type of magnesium supplement at a lower dose, with her last meal of the day. As an additional option to amend Bobby Lynn’s magnesium deficiency, the nutritionist suggests that Bobby Lynn try either Epsom salt bathes or foot soaks, as Epsom salt is a magnesium salt and magnesium can be absorbed through the skin.

The nutritionist is very honest with Bobby and tells her due to the fact Bobby Lynn’s deficiency sounds like it has been prolonged, magnesium is hard to absorb, key nutrients to absorb it may also be low, it may be up to 90 days before Bobby Lynn’s deficiency is amended. However, if she follows the directions, she should start to see changes in 2 to 3 weeks. Keep putting in the work.

If this article gave you lots of “ah-ha’s” and “oh I see’s” make sure to recommend to your friends, family and followers. Then get click happy and click on the super cute green heart below. -Sheila

This article was originally published on NutritionSheila.com, an awesome website to get legit info to improve your quality of life, while enjoying laughs and spotting the random Stallone references.

Sheila Amir is the owner and author of NutritionSheila.com, where she gives people information in order to help them live happier, healthier and well-nourished lives.

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