In these health-conscious times, millions of us wash down a vitamin pill as part of our breakfast routine. PICTURE: Supplied

In these health-conscious times, millions of us wash down a vitamin pill as part of our breakfast routine.

But it seems we may be wasting our time. Researchers claim swallowing vitamin supplements with tea or coffee can wipe out all the good they do. The heat in the drinks can dramatically reduce the effects of tablets, and even kill the ‘friendly’ bacteria in probiotic foods such as yoghurts, experts said.

A University of East Anglia study found that hot drinks and food such as porridge inhibit the absorption of iron by up to 73 per cent. Around 46 per cent of British adults take daily vitamin supplements, and 70 per cent of those who do take them with breakfast. Now experts suggest waiting at least an hour before consuming hot food or drink after taking tablets.

Dr Sarah Brewer, a GP and medical nutritionist, said: ‘I don’t advise taking probiotics, vitamin or mineral supplements with tea or coffee. These drinks contain compounds which, although beneficial at other times, also bind iron and other minerals to reduce their absorption.

‘In fact, coffee can reduce iron absorption by up to 80 per cent if drunk within an hour of a meal. Very hot drinks can also inactivate some vitamins, and kill live probiotic bacteria.’ To ensure beneficial bacteria survive, Glenn Gibson, professor of food microbiology at the University of Reading, advises washing down supplements with water or milk. Breakfast is still the best time to take pills, as the gut has rested overnight and is therefore more receptive, he added.

Research by supplement company Healthspan also found that, among potential buyers of probiotics, few were aware of the alleged benefits of taking them during and after a course of antibiotics. While antibiotics kill the bacteria that cause infections, they can also destroy good bacteria in our bodies.

Arthur Ouwehand, professor in applied microbiology at the University of Turku, Finland, claimed: ‘It’s important to begin taking probiotics from the moment you start antibiotics and continue for a few weeks after finishing the course.’

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