It is amazing the number supplements you purchase that tell you to take them on an empty stomach, and yet they don’t explain to you what that means, or why and how you have to do this. Most of supplements (and medicines) that must be taken on an empty stomach do not pass into the bloodstream very well if there is food in the stomach.

So, here are the whys and hows of taking supplements (or medications) on an empty stomach.

The reason they say “on an empty stomach” is that the substance in the capsule or pill is not intended to be digested in the stomach.  Stomach acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach will destroy or damage the contents of the pill.  Remember, most supplements are food products and can easily be digested in the stomach.  When you digest a product in the stomach, it is used by the body differently than when it is digested in the intestines.  The only thing that keeps that from happening is the protective coating capsule that is designed to act as a little submarine to get the inside product to the duodenum (small intestine) undigested.

That’s why if you take supplements with milk or orange juice, you’ve already started up the digestive process.  The sphincter at the bottom of the stomach closes and digestive juices are injected and go to work in the stomach.  Chances are the pill capsule is not going to make it to the duodenum without damage.

This is why most juice-vitamin products are worthless. The supplements are damaged by the digestive processes in the stomach and most of these drinks are filled with sugar.  Sugar, when it hits your mouth has already triggered the digestive processes in the stomach.  This is automatic.  A bit of sugar in the mouth will close up the sphincter for a while to begin the breakdown of the sugars (and everything else) in your stomach.

Therefore, you must take your supplements “on an empty stomach” with plain, cold water.

Notice, I said cold.  That is to ensure that the pill your taking goes right on past the stomach into the first part of your small intestine (duodenum).  The temperature of your digestive tract is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  So, to really avoid digestion in the stomach, take your medication with iced water.

People then ask, “How long after taking something on an empty stomach may I eat?”  We’ve heard five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, and half an hour.  A biologist I once spoke with said 15 minutes is the answer, but all the medical books say half an hour.  Well doctors like being the final authority.   You’re fine if you take supplements about 30 minutes (although hour is better) before eating anything.

People also ask, how long after we eat a meal, will our stomachs be considered empty.  Most conservative medical books say about 3 hours.

Here is something I got from a nutritionist.  Twenty minutes after you eat, the sphincter at the bottom of the stomach leading to the small intestines opens.  If your system is in good working order, and you were to take something at this time, it would probably pass into the small intestine pretty much untouched.

Bottom line: For supplements should be taken on an empty stomach so that they pass into the bloodstream properly.  Choose times of the day that are convenient to you. 30 minutes – 1 hour before breakfast is ideal for once a day supplements.  Other good times include mid-morning, mid-afternoon and last thing at night before going to bed.  Just be sure it’s been at least 3 hours since you last ate anything.