A majority of Americans take dietary supplements — 75 percent of adults, according to 2022 survey data from the Council for Responsible Nutrition — which means plenty of us know the struggle of actually swallowing them.
When your supplement pill is a bit too big, cutting the tablets in half (or even crushing them) might seem like the simplest solution. But will the supplements still be effective? Well, the short answer is it depends on the supplement.
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Which Supplements Are Safe to Cut?
Generally speaking, supplements in tablet form may be cut in half without lessening their nutritional value, says Brittany Michels, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with The Vitamin Shoppe.
Some supplements in capsule form may even be opened, she says, but it's best to ask your doctor or pharmacist first to be sure. “In fact, many clients who find difficulty swallowing pills will do this,” Michels says.
Supplements You Shouldn't Cut
There are two types of supplements that should not be sized down. So put down the knife if the type of vitamin or mineral you're taking is a time-released formula or those with an enteric coating, like probiotic supplements.
1. Time-Release Supplements
Also referred to as extended-release, slow-release, delayed-release and sustained-release, these products are designed to slowly release vitamins or minerals throughout the body over a specific length of time.
"For example, a popular time-release supplement is melatonin," Michels says. "Those taking higher doses without success may try an extended-release option to slow absorption of this neurotransmitter and achieve optimal sleep levels."
A time-released supplement often needs to stay intact in order for the desired purpose to be successful, she states. "The outermost layer is designed to break down slower and/or to withstand stomach acid more so than other supplements."
2. Supplements With Enteric Coating
Other supplements that should be swallowed whole are capsules made with an enteric coating.
A tablet that is formulated with this substance helps prevent the supplement (or medicine) from being released until it reaches the small intestine, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Michels explains probiotics (a variety of live microorganisms — mostly good bacteria — that help the body either digest food, destroy harmful cells or produce vitamins) are likely to fall under this category.
"Many probiotics cannot survive the stomach acid and are lost by the time they make it to the intestinal tract," she says. "So the enteric coating ensures they make it."
Some common medications with enteric coatings include aspirin, diclofenac, naproxen and omeprazole, per an older but frequently cited November-December 2012 report in the Journal of Pharmacy.
As long as a vitamin or mineral supplement does not offer a time-release function and is not made with an enteric coating, it may be OK to crush, cut in half or open, Michels says, but it's always best to check with a professional first.
If you still have trouble swallowing tablets of any size, try coating your throat with water first, per the University of Rochester Medical Center. Begin by taking a sip of H2O, then place the pill on the back of your tongue. Drink more water — up to 8 ounces — and keep swallowing.
Another option: Skip the tablets and capsules altogether. Most supplements on the market today offer powder, liquid and chewable forms, Michels adds.
- The Council for Responsible Nutrition: "CRN Reveals Survey Data from 2022 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements"
- The Vitamin Shoppe
- NIH: "Probiotics: What You Need to Know"
- NIH: "Enteric-Coated (EC)"
- University of Rochster Medical Center: "Pills: Make Them Go Down Easy"
- Journal of Pharmacy: "A review on recent advances of enteric coating"