This Is How Time Release Vitamins Really Work

Some vitamins and supplements don't deliver their entire dose in one shot but rather, over several hours. Such is the technology behind time-release tablets and capsules, also known as "delayed-release," "slow-release," "extended-release," or "sustained-release" (via Livestrong).

But just how does this work? It's not as if you can tell your stomach what to digest now and what to set aside for later. Rather, these products are combined with other ingredients that form a hard outer coating that prevents the pill or capsule from dissolving into your system too quickly, as registered dietitian nutritionist Angie Kuhn, director of research and nutrition at Persona Nutrition, explained to Livestrong.

If you sliced one in half, you'd see multiple layers surrounding a solid core. Each layer is designed to dissolve at different times, according to Matt Hesse of the vitamin company ORB Wellness (via Well + Good). "Think of taking a tiny molecule and suspending it inside of a chamber and then spraying ingredients onto it — the ingredients being vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, etc. — in little layers," Hesse says. "And in between the layers, there's talc and coatings that slowly dissolve. As they do, that releases the next layer of vitamin."

Some time-release vitamins and minerals don't absorb well

One study from the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry noted that time-release formulas provide some advantages, such as decreased fluctuations in blood levels and dosing convenience. For instance, researchers in Korea noted a "high satisfaction rate" among adults with insomnia who took a time-released capsule containing melatonin to sleep better.

But some vitamins and minerals can be hazardous when dosing lasts over five to eight hours. Supplements with time-release niacin — a B vitamin that turns food into energy and keeps the digestive system, nervous system, and skin healthy — tend to cause fewer side effects than regular niacin supplements. "But they're also associated with liver damage," Kuhn told Livestrong.

Talk with your doctor about any supplements, vitamins, and medications you're already taking and discuss whether a time-release version is right for you. "Generally speaking, time-release vitamins are no more effective than regular vitamins — and they tend to cost more money, too," Kuhn explained.