Trouble Swallowing Vitamins? Take a Look at This Guide

If the mere thought of taking your multivitamin gives you anxiety, you’re not alone. Many people struggle to swallow their vitamins and other medications, even when they want to. Unfortunately, this isn’t just inconvenient and frustrating; it can also be dangerous.

Taking vitamins and medications is necessary for many people, and without the ability to swallow your vitamin, you may struggle to receive the nutrients and medications you need. It is common for people to have trouble swallowing vitamins, but it doesn’t have to be that way forever. Our comprehensive guide to swallowing vitamins is sure to contain a strategy that will work for you. 

Why some people have difficulty swallowing vitamins

Some people need more than a glass of water in order to swallow their pills. For people who have had a bad experience trying to swallow a vitamin or pill in the past, their difficulty stems from a fear of swallowing pills. This fear can lead to difficulty swallowing, which is called dysphagia. Young children commonly experience dysphagia, as do some people who have had a pill become lodged in their throat in the past. Symptoms of dysphagia include:

  • Gagging when swallowing
  • Food and liquid coming out of the nose after attempting to swallow
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Failure to move food from the mouth into the throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • A choking sensation
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Food or pills getting stuck in the neck or chest, creating pressure
  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation or reflux

Some people are more prone to have difficulty swallowing pills than others. These groups include young children, stroke survivors, people with scarring of the esophagus due to acid reflux disease, seniors with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, and pregnant women. While some people are eventually able to overcome their fear of swallowing pills, others may continue to have difficulty swallowing and may need to consider other forms of vitamins. People with dry mouth may also have difficulty swallowing pills, as there is less lubrication in the mouth and throat to allow a vitamin to slide down easily. 

Best strategies for swallowing vitamins

If you have trouble swallowing vitamins right now, don’t worry - it is possible to overcome your fear and learn how to swallow pills unless there is an anatomical issue that prevents you from swallowing normally. Try these time-tested strategies for swallowing vitamins the next time you need to take a pill.

Pop Bottle Method

The pop bottle method was developed by German researchers who wanted to find a way to help people swallow pills. The strategy was designed to help people swallow large, dense tablets, but it can be applied to many types of vitamins. In order to use the pop bottle method, you’ll need a full water bottle with a narrow opening. First, place the vitamin on your tongue. Next, draw the water bottle up to your lips and close your mouth around the bottle opening. Lift the bottle and use the pressure caused by the narrow opening of the bottle to send water down your throat while swallowing. The study found that 60 percent of people who had difficulty swallowing pills were successful using this technique. 

Use a Thick Drink

Vitamins and other larger pills often go down easier when they are taken with a thick drink, such as a milkshake, smoothie, or papaya juice. It’s believed that this strategy works because people with sensitive gag reflexes find that their reflex is eased by the thickness of the beverage, allowing them to swallow the vitamin more easily. 

Hide the Vitamin in Food

Trying to hide the vitamin in soft food, such as pudding, applesauce, yogurt, or another soft food, may work for many people. Make sure that the food you choose is something you’re used to swallowing so that your brain will focus on the pleasure of eating the food you enjoy. This strategy will work for most vitamins, but may not work for some medications, so talk to your doctor before taking prescription drugs while using this strategy.

Add a Banana

Another strategy using food is to take your vitamin with a bite of banana. To try this trick, take a bite of banana and chew it into a mash without swallowing. Then, place the vitamin in your mouth in the center of the banana mash. Take a big sip of water and swallow the vitamin and the banana mash together. Combining the vitamin with some mashed banana will help soothe a sensitive gag reflex. 

Use a Lubricant

Uncoated pills and vitamins can be particularly difficult for some people to swallow, especially when they are large. Many people don’t realize that the gel coating that makes some pills and vitamins easier to swallow than others can be applied to vitamins after they are purchased. Lubricant gels and spray on lubricants such as Pill Glide can help make any vitamin, tablet or capsule easier to swallow with a quick application, and they can also improve the taste of your medication in many cases. One study found that 54 percent of people who used a pill lubricant were better able to swallow their pills than they were without the lubricant.

Lean-forward Method

The lean-forward method is another extremely popular study that helps people swallow pills. A study conducted on the lean-forward method found that more than 88 percent of people who used this method improved their ability to swallow pills. In order to use the lean-forward method, first place the vitamin or pill on your tongue. Next, take a sip of water and hold it in your mouth without swallowing. Tilt your chin down towards your chest, then swallow the capsule and water while your chin is bent down towards your chest. The motion should be done quickly as you tilt your chin down towards your chest, which distracts your mind from focusing on swallowing the vitamin. 

Use a Straw

Much like the pop-bottle method, using a straw distracts your brain from focusing on the act of swallowing a vitamin or pill. By using a straw to suck up liquid and wash down your vitamin, your brain will focus on the action of sucking up the water and sealing the straw off with your lips at the same time. There are even special straws that are designed to facilitate swallowing vitamins.

Use a pill-swallowing cup

Much like there are straws that are designed to help people swallow pills, there are also cups that are designed for the same purpose. Pill-swallowing cups are designed with a specially configured top that extends towards the back of the mouth, which puts the pill farther back on your tongue and makes swallowing easier. However, people with dysphagia that is not caused by a fear of swallowing pills should not use these cups, as they may increase the risk of choking in people who are anatomically unable to swallow pills.

Drink water

The old fashioned way to take a vitamin or pill is to swallow it with water, but this actually isn’t the optimum method. While most people place a pill or vitamin on their tongue and then drink water to wash it down, it may help to perform the action in reverse. Take a large sip of water before placing the pill in your mouth, and concentrate on the idea of successfully swallowing it. The pill may wash down your throat with the large gulp of water.

Let it float

Multivitamins, particularly whole foods-based dietary supplements, often come in a capsule form. Unlike tablets, which often sink because they are heavier than water, capsules are usually lighter than water, which can sometimes make them easier to swallow. When trying to swallow a capsule multivitamin, place the capsule in your mouth and then take a large sip of water without swallowing. Lower your chin towards your chest, allowing the capsule to float towards the back of your throat. Then, swallow the capsule with the water. 

What not to do when swallowing vitamins

Some of the previous advice you’ve heard about how to swallow vitamins may actually be making the task more difficult than it needs to be. If you are throwing vitamins towards the back of your mouth, don’t. This is more likely to activate your gag reflex and make swallowing pills more difficult. Additionally, it is not recommended that people tip their heads back too far when trying to swallow pills or vitamins, as this can close off the throat and make the process more difficult. Finally, never crush a pill, open a vitamin capsule, or alter the state of your medication or supplement without speaking to a doctor first. Some medications and vitamins may interact with foods or beverages and alter their effectiveness.