If you have trouble swallowing pills — including capsules, tablets, and gel caps — you’re not alone. Many people find that taking herbs, vitamins, supplements, and even oral medications of any kind is a challenge. From psychological obstacles, a strong gag reflex, or the feeling that a pill will get stuck in your throat – you may experience one or more of these sensations when trying to down the herbs and supplements in your daily health regimen.
In fact, 40% of American adults have difficulty swallowing pills, suggest research in the Archives of Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. And yet, most don’t have any problems with food or liquids. However, the aversion to downing pills whole may be somewhat natural in some ways.
After all, pills are solid substances, and from a young age, we’re taught to chew solid foods so that we don’t choke on them. When it comes to swallowing pills, we’re asking ourselves to consciously override a lesson deeply ingrained in us, which can be a real challenge for some people.
Additional emotional issues or fears may be at play here, too. For instance, you may associate pills with past painful moments, such as being sick as a child and having to take medicine that tasted awful. Sometimes, those memories can resurface by merely looking at an herb or supplement bottle sitting on the kitchen counter. But it doesn’t have to stay this way.
You can overcome your swallowing fears and troubles and triumphantly take your herbs and supplements. As a matter of fact, your long-term health may depend on you solving this critical challenge. Otherwise, you could miss out on a wellspring of powerful phytochemicals and nutrients that can profoundly impact your health and well-being.
10 Tips to Swallow Herbs and Supplements More Easily
Whatever the reason for the swallowing difficulties, consider these 10 tips to sweep away those fears so that you can gain the tremendous health benefits of natural and herbal remedies.
Tip #1: Try the Pop-Bottle Method.
Research in the Annals of Family Medicine highlighted two techniques that noticeably improved the study participants’ ability to swallow tablets and capsules. The first strategy, the pop-bottle method, aided in swallowing tablets in nearly 60% of those who applied it. To give it a try, use these four steps
- Fill a flexible plastic bottle with water; you can also use a pre-filled bottle of water.
- Place the tablet on your tongue and tighten your mouth around the opening of the bottle.
- Suck on the bottle opening to create a tight seal, and tilt your head back while taking a drink.
- Swallow the water — the suction helps to facilitate the movement of the pill toward the base of the tongue and down the throat.
Tip #2 Use the Lean-Forward Technique.
The second strategy, called the lean-forward technique, helped more than 88% of participants swallow capsules more smoothly in the same study. Here’s how you do it:
- Place the capsule on your tongue.
- Take a medium-sized sip of water, but don’t swallow it yet.
- Tilt your chin forward toward your chest. This position creates extra space at the back of your throat.
- Swallow your capsule while keeping your head in this position.
In addition to the science-backed ways to help you swallow your herbs and supplements with greater ease, several practical strategies may also be of assistance to you, depending on the size and amount of pills you’re trying to consume in one sitting.
Tip #3 Sip Through a Straw.
Similar to the pop-bottle method, sipping water through a straw creates a sucking motion that helps your herbs and supplements glide down your throat. Plus, focusing on using the straw can help distract your mind from swallowing the pill.
Tip #4 Build Up to the Recommended Dose.
Starting a new herbal or supplement routine can sometimes be overwhelming. You may fare better by only taking partial amounts of your daily dosage initially. Over time, you can gradually build up to the recommended serving as your routine becomes more second nature. This will also help you ease into the habit of successfully taking your supplements on a regular basis.
Tip #5: Relax and Visualize Success.
The fear and stress of swallowing a pill can trigger your throat muscles to tighten up — making the process even more difficult. Positive imagery can go a long way in alleviating excess muscle tension, so just take a quiet moment beforehand to relax, take some deep breaths, and visualize those herbs and supplements sliding down the pipe effortlessly.
Tip #6: Drink Thick Liquids.
Though it might sound counterintuitive, water isn’t always the easiest substance to use when trying to swallow pills, especially capsules. Instead, consider thick liquids like coconut milk or a smoothie with your favorite nut milk, low-sugar fruits, and greens; they’re more viscous than water and can help the pills go down easier.
Tip #7: Mix With Soft Food.
If it’s the taste that’s bothersome to you, some people take their tablets and capsules with juice or drop them onto a spoonful of applesauce, yogurt, or mashed banana to conceal the flavor. Others chase them down with a tiny piece of soft, gluten-free bread. For some people, hiding the flavor with juice or soft foods helps the (herbal) medicine go down — so experiment until you find what works for you.
Tip #8 Open the Capsule.
Open the herbal supplement capsule and mix the powdered contents into a smoothie or your favorite drink. Be forewarned, however – many herbs have a powerful smell and aftertaste so this may be a more pleasant experience with some herbs than others.
Tip #9 Try a Pill Lubricant.
If you continue to have trouble swallowing herbs and supplements, an over-the-counter pill lubricant may help. Simply spray the solution into your mouth a few times; the pill lubricant will help the pills go down with less difficulty.
Tip #10 Ease Off.
The point of taking herbal therapies and supplements is to enhance and bring vibrancy to your life, but the pressure to take them could be worsening the situation. If you’re still struggling despite your best efforts, consider easing off for a day or two and let the stress of it all reside. When you’re feeling a bit calmer, you can give it another go, or consider switching to a different form altogether. Many herbs come in tinctures or powders, two forms that might make swallowing more comfortable for you.
The Bottom Line
You may never be one of those people who can grab a giant handful of pills and happily gulp them down all at once (and yes, some people can do this just fine). But if you follow some of these tips, you can minimize the fear or discomfort, make herbs and supplements more tolerable to take, and pave a path toward better health. Now, down the hatch!
1. Carnaby-Mann G, Crary M. Pill swallowing by adults with dysphagia. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2005 Nov;131(11):970-5. doi: 10.1001/archotol.131.11.97
2. Schiele JT, Schneider H, Quinzler R, Reich G, Haefeli WE. Two techniques to make swallowing pills easier. Ann Fam Med. 2014 Nov-Dec;12(6):550-2. doi: 10.1370/afm.1693