Supplements 101: How Do They Actually Work?

Chances are at some point in your life you’ve heard someone tell you “Take your vitamins!” But what do you really know about vitamins? Why should you take your vitamins?

You may know the basics—vitamins and supplements can help you get the essentials your body needs and may help your diet. But what about everything else and the science behind supplements?

Keep reading for your guide to supplements and know what to look for in quality supplements.

What are Supplements?

Supplements are just that—a product intended to supplement the diet. They contain “dietary ingredients” that can help fill the gaps in your diet or put in place a consistent intake of certain nutrients. But what are dietary ingredients? 

Dietary ingredients include:

  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Herbs and botanicals
  • Amino acids
  • Enzymes and live microbial (“probiotics”)
  • Concentrates, metabolites, constituents, extracts, or any combination of the above categories

Supplements can be found in various forms, including powders, capsules, pills, tablets, soft gels, gummies, and liquids.[1]

Types of Supplements & Vitamins

The FDA defines dietary supplements as something intended to add or supplement the diet and are different from conventional food.[8] Supplements come in many different forms, such as capsules, soft gels, tablets, powders, and more. 

To get more specific, there are two types of vitamins:

Water-Soluble Vitamins

These supplements are exactly what you think—vitamins that dissolve in water. In total, there are nine water-soluble vitamins: Vitamin C and eight B Vitamins which include vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, rely on fat for absorption. These vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Vitamins & Mineral Supplements vs. Nutrients in Food

To make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need, eating a healthy diet is the best way to go. Different foods can contain varying amounts and can contain combinations of nutrients you need.

Additionally, food can contain other essentials, like healthy fats, protein, fibre, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. All of these are needed for optimal health and wellness.[9,10,11,12,13]

Supplements, on the other hand, are meant to supplement rather than replace.[14] And there are individuals who could benefit from supplements more than others.

Why Do People Take Supplements? Who Should Take Supplements?

While you can get the majority of nutrients from a healthy diet, some people fall a little short if they have a poor diet. This is especially true if you follow a restricted diet, exclude entire food groups, or have certain health goals.

However, there are a few categories of people who may benefit from adding supplements to their regimen[2]:

  • People aged 50 or older
  • Pregnant or those trying to get pregnant
  • Those with medical conditions that may affect how your body digests nutrients (allergies, intolerance, etc.)
  • If you’ve had surgery on your digestive tract and it affects digesting nutrients

If you’re unsure if you could benefit from supplements, talk with your doctor before starting. 

Are Supplements Effective?

Yes—supplements can be effective and can help get sufficient amounts of the essential nutrients your body needs. However, you should never replace foods that are important to a healthy diet. 

Some of the more popular supplements that help improve overall health and can help some health conditions include[3]:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: May help those with heart disease
  • Folic Acid: Highly recommended for those who are pregnant; can help decrease the risk of certain birth defects
  • Calcium & Vitamin D: Two of the more common deficiencies; can help keep bones healthy and strong

Are Supplements Safe?

While there are plenty of supplements that are considered safe or have low chances of side effects, there are still many that contain active ingredients that can affect your body.

Supplements with high doses, or if you take many different supplements at a time, you are more likely to experience some side effects. It is important to be aware of the number of certain supplements you are taking. 

Taking more than you need can increase your risk of side effects. For example, too much iron can cause nausea, and vomiting, and can damage organs. Therefore, it is important to check the labels—What are the active ingredients? What nutrients are included? What’s the serving size? What’s the amount of nutrients in each serving?[2,3]

Another worry when it comes to doses is that many foods, like breakfast cereals and beverages, are now including vitamins and minerals in their formulas. So if you’re eating those foods or drinking those drinks while also taking supplements, you are probably getting more than you realize. 

Additionally, some supplements can cause interactions with some medications and it is important to be cautious taking supplements if you’re pregnant, nursing, or trying to get pregnant.[3]

Safety and risks are huge reasons to discuss these things with your doctor before implementing any supplements into your routine.

What’s the Best Time to Take Supplements? How Should I Take Them?

This answer can involve many different factors. For a complete overview, check out our blog discussing all the ins and outs of taking supplements.

Generally speaking, it is suggested to take your supplements during your morning routine rather than at night because your digestive system slows down at night. This results in insufficient absorption and certain vitamins, like multivitamins and B vitamins, stimulate the brain too much making it difficult to relax sometimes.[4,5,6] 

However, it truly depends on what works best for you and when you’ll remember to take them. Consistency is key.

It is also recommended, in many cases, to take your supplements with a meal and also a glass of water. This is to help disperse the ingredients, improve absorption, and decrease the chance of stomach upset.[7]

Suggested: What’s the Best Time to Take Your Supplements

What to Look For in Quality Supplements

Finding quality supplements that actually work can be overwhelming. But we’re here to help guide you. Look for the following factors when choosing your supplements:

  • Clinically-Studied Ingredients: Quality supplements and trusting brands should use ingredients that have been scientifically studied and proven to work.
  • Efficient Doses: If supplements don’t include a potent, but safe, dose in each capsule, they won’t give you the results you’re looking for.
  • Simple, Natural, & Pure: Supplements should give you only what you need and nothing that you don’t. Look for supplements that have pure, simple ingredients — the less on the label, the better. It ensures you are getting all the benefits that the supplement has to offer.
  • Free of GMOs & Fillers: You want the best ingredients possible and no ingredients that you don’t need. Find supplements that are completely free of GMOs, fillers, binders, and other unwanted ingredients. These additives provide no medical benefit and disregarding them may potentially cause allergic reactions or sensitivity.

And you don’t need to look much further than here. At HeyNutrition, we know that high-quality ingredients make all the difference. We pride ourselves on producing premium supplements made from superior ingredients to help you become the healthiest and happiest version of yourself.

All of our products are made with ingredients that have been studied and clinically proven to provide you with real health benefits, and nothing that you don’t need. Our products are free of artificial additives and other nasties, and they are delivered in optimal doses to ensure maximum potency and real results, so you can get back to feeling your absolute best.

Ready to check out our line of premium products for yourself and get started on your journey to a happier, healthier you? Click here to get started!


  1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Questions and answers on dietary supplements. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from 
  2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, November 17). Supplements: Nutrition in a Pill? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from 
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020, September 3). Office of dietary supplements - dietary supplements: What you need to know. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from 
  4. Dantas, R. O., & Aben-Athar, C. G. (2002). Aspectos dos efeitos do sono no aparelho digestório [Aspects of sleep effects on the digestive tract]. Arquivos de gastroenterologia, 39(1), 55–59. 
  5. Kennedy D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68. 
  6. Zheng, Y., Ma, A. G., Zheng, M. C., Wang, Q. Z., Liang, H., Han, X. X., & Schouten, E. G. (2018). B Vitamins Can Reduce Body Weight Gain by Increasing Metabolism-related Enzyme Activities in Rats Fed on a High-Fat Diet. Current medical science, 38(1), 174–183. 
  7. Team, D. H. (2021, December 29). 6 tips to avoid nausea after taking vitamins. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from 
  8. FDA. (2022, June 2). FDA 101: Dietary supplements. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from 
  9. Morris AL, Mohiuddin SS. Biochemistry, Nutrients. [Updated 2022 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
  10. Skerrett, P. J., & Willett, W. C. (2010). Essentials of healthy eating: a guide. Journal of midwifery & women's health, 55(6), 492–501. 
  11. Huang D. (2018). Dietary Antioxidants and Health Promotion. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 7(1), 9. 
  12. Zhang, Y. J., Gan, R. Y., Li, S., Zhou, Y., Li, A. N., Xu, D. P., & Li, H. B. (2015). Antioxidant Phytochemicals for the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 20(12), 21138–21156. 
  13. Sivakumar, D., Chen, L., & Sultanbawa, Y. (2018). A comprehensive review on beneficial dietary phytochemicals in common traditional Southern African leafy vegetables. Food science & nutrition, 6(4), 714–727. 
  14. Lentjes M. A. H. (2019). The balance between food and dietary supplements in the general population. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78(1), 97–109. 

Written by Samantha