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Water vs. Fat-Soluble Vitamins

There are 13 vitamins in all, and you need every single one, no exceptions. Your body must have them in very small amounts for normal growth, metabolism (creating energy in your cells), and health. You need vitamins to make enzymes and hormones — important substances your body uses to make all the chemical reactions you need to live. You must get your vitamins from your food or from supplements—your body can’t make them.

What are Water-Soluble Vitamins?

Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and all eight B-vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12), and they dissolve in water. Our body is about 70% water, so the water-soluble vitamins absorb directly into our blood and circulate freely into the water-filled compartments of the body. Our kidney’s remove excess water-soluble vitamins, which is why they’re needed in small, frequent doses. Unless you take truly massive doses of water-soluble vitamins, it’s difficult to overdose; however, the excess does put extra strain on your kidneys and makes for some expensive urine. 

What are Fat-Soluble Vitamins?

The fat-soluble vitamins include Vitamins A, E, D, and K. They dissolve in fat but not water and typically require protein carriers for transport through the body. They are primarily stored in the cells associated with fat and the liver. Because these vitamins are stored for longer periods of time, you don’t need a supply of them every day, and getting too much may cause problems.

As with the water-soluble vitamins, the function of one fat-soluble vitamin often depends on the presence of another. For example, vitamin E protects vitamin A from oxidation. In vitamin E deficiency, vitamin A absorption and storage are impaired. Three of the four fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, and K), play important roles in bone remodeling.

Fat-soluble vitamins also interact with minerals; an example is vitamin D and calcium (a mineral).

Vitamin D Absorption

Some vitamin D supplements come as a tablet, others in a water or oil based liquid solution. Does it matter how you take your vitamin D? According to the Vitamin D Council, it generally does not matter if you take vitamin D in oil, water, or as a powder. It also doesn’t matter if you take your vitamin D with food or on an empty stomach.  

Take Vitamins With or Without Food?

Water-soluble vitamins (B-vitamins and vitamin C) can supposedly be taken on an empty stomach, but I’ve found this can lead to heartburn or an upset stomach. If that happens, taking the vitamins with food may alleviate the discomfort. Also, take any B-vitamins before 3pm or they may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. 

Take your fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, and K) with food, such as your breakfast meal. These vitamins will absorb more readily if there is a little fat in your meal. 

Capsules vs. Tablets

Some advantages of capsules: Sealed hard gelatin caps can be good oxygen barriers, which provides protection for sensitive vitamins; Shell normally breaks down/opens in 4 minutes; Reduced gastrointestinal irritation; Odorless, tasteless, easy to swallow; Oil and fat-soluble nutrient delivery 

Some disadvantages of capsules: Can be susceptible to moisture; Ingredients can interact with capsule shell; Costly; Capsule or lubricant allergies/sensitivities are possible

Some advantages of tablets: Notching possible for dose splitting; Low cost coatings for enteric delivery; Dissolution control for quick, delayed, or extended release

Some disadvantages of tablets: Excessive compaction and poor ability to dissolve; Granulation technique can add heat/moisture to viable components; Customer concerns/self-testing of tablets ability to dissolve; Coating sensitivities 

Stay tuned for a future blog about which forms of vitamins are the most bioactive.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods


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