I am such a dietary supplement and functional food junkie. I take about 75 pills a day that includes capsules to tablets to softgels. I have a wide variety of powders and liquids lying around as well. I have also dabbled in chewables and gummies. I probably spend $300-$400 every month on these products. And every month I think to myself, “am I getting the health benefits these products claim to provide? Or am I producing a bunch of expensive urine.”
That said, I have been an endurance athlete for more than 30 years, having participated in more than 300 events over that time, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. I truly rely on these products. And, based on my longevity in a sport that is notoriously hard on the body, I have realized profound benefits from taking these products. Still, if I could nail down delivery systems where I can get the maximum absorption, I could not only create a better dietary supplement regimen, but save hundreds of dollars as well.
As previously mentioned, many who take supplements are concerned about absorption. For example, while it may be true that tablets can pass through a person’s digestive system without breaking down, when this occurs, it almost always indicates a problem with something other than the tablet itself. People with poor digestive health often do not adequately absorb dietary supplements.
Then there’s the old wives’ tale that vitamins make expensive urine. Interestingly, multivitamins and B complexes contain vitamin B2. This B vitamin markedly changes the color of urine, normally making it much yellower. After an hour or so after taking the supplement, a visit to the bathroom usually reveals the change in urine color. I can understand why so many conclude that their vitamins have not been absorbed.
But this is not the case. Vitamins from supplements are absorbed the same way as vitamins from food. No vitamin, whether from food or supplements, can go directly from the stomach to the bladder. The only way vitamins can change the appearance of urine is if they have been filtered from the bloodstream by the kidneys. The only way this can occur is if the supplement has been absorbed through the digestive tract. And the only way this can happen is if the supplement breaks down easily or is otherwise manufactured to be bioavailable. So, contrary to the myth, when you see color changes in your urine associated with your supplement, it’s not evidence of it being wasted. It’s confirmation that it’s been broken down, absorbed and made available to body tissues.
One final point about absorption: faster isn’t necessarily better. Many people spend the extra money for liquid supplements based on a belief that they will absorb faster than capsules or tablets. They might, but the time difference between complete absorption of liquids versus other forms, 20-30 minutes, does not amount to a noticeable nutritional advantage. In fact, where higher potencies are concerned, slower absorption may be preferable to fast absorption. This is because there are limits to how fast and how much of a given nutrient the body can absorb over a certain period of time. When you overwhelm these absorption pathways, you waste nutrients. Slower is better when it comes to essential nutrients. Many supplements are available in a time-released format just for this reason. For other types of supplements, such as pre-workout formulas, the faster absorption does make a difference.
Therefore, I thought it may be compelling to generate a “Top 5” list of delivery systems that will help you realize maximum absorption of the nutrients in the products you buy. Consider some of the aforementioned marketing information when considering what is best for you:
Tablets & Capsules: One thing to watch out for in tablets and capsules are binders and fillers. Binders and fillers can include lubricants and disintegrate to aid the body in absorption. But these are added ingredients your body does not need.
Softgels: These are becoming a popular dosage form for the administration of liquids, suspensions, and dry powders in the dietary supplement industry. Softgels can be an effective delivery system for oral dietary supplements, especially poorly soluble nutrients. This is because the fill can contain liquid ingredients that help increase solubility or permeability of the ingredient across the membranes in the body. Liquid ingredients are difficult to include in any other solid dosage form such as a tablet. Because of their smooth contour and shape, softgels are very easy to swallow regardless of size. They also offer superior shelf-life to capsules, liquids and powders since they are completely sealed and air-tight. The manufacturing of softgels is specialized and considerably more expensive than tablets or capsules. Therefore, softgel product pricing is also more expensive.
Powders: Like liquid supplements, the powder is more rapidly absorbed by the body than a supplement in pill form. This is one of the reasons that protein powders are superior to protein pills. Although the topic is hotly debated, many bodybuilding experts believe that the ideal time for protein absorption is immediately after exercise. If you take protein pills, your body isn’t able to utilize the protein in the pill for hours. In addition, many supplements that are available in powder form are soluble, or dissolvable in water. This allows individuals to take their supplements in liquid form, which is both preferable and easier for many people.
Liquids: If you do not like swallowing pills, a liquid supplement may be the delivery system for you. Liquid vitamin supplements enter the bloodstream faster than powdered vitamins because the body begins absorbing liquid vitamins through the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat. Be aware that liquids may taste great, but many liquid supplements include preservatives that can interfere with the active ingredients.
Isotonic Vitamins: Meaning “same pressure,” isotonic has the same chemical resemblance of the body’s blood, plasma, and tears. This means that the body has less work to do to obtain maximum absorption of the nutrients. The isotonic state allows nutrients to pass directly into the small intestine and rapidly absorb into the bloodstream. Little nutritive value is lost, making the absorption of nutrients highly efficient while delivering maximum results. The fluids in the body that are the same or close to the same concentrations to one another include blood, tears, sweat, urine, breastmilk and the contents of your intestines. The stomach protects the walls of your intestines. It doesn’t matter what you eat, your stomach will make every effort to break it apart, adjust the acidity, and appropriately dilute food to an isotonic state. The concept at the root of isotonic supplements is that rather than taking pills, capsules, liquids, or absolutely anything else that will be held up in the stomach for up to 4 hours, exposed to acid, and generally broken down, why not take an isotonic vitamin on an empty stomach and allow it to pass through virtually unscathed into the small intestine where very high absorption rates can be achieved.
One delivery system I neglected to mention is gummy and chewable supplements. These can truly be appealing because of their colors and tastes, but most are very high in sugars and have fewer active ingredients, making them less effective in delivering the desired benefits.
A large and technologically impressive selection of delivery systems is currently available for people of all ages. In the end, it will be you that will choose the delivery system you like. Today’s advanced delivery systems are extraordinary in their ability to enhance nutrient bioavailability, provide supplement versatility, and offer options based on your specific nutritional needs. For me, this sounds fantastic. But, in the end, in a nation that is largely devoid of nutritional discipline, will these delivery systems entice people to take their dietary supplements every day. That is the challenge.
Mark Becker is the EVP, Sales and Marketing for Allied BioNutrition Corp., a global biotechnology leader, based in Los Angeles, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 20 years. Mark has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor’s in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his Master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For more than 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 103 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Allied BioNutrition on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AlliedBioNutrition11/?fref=ts. Follow Mark on Twitter at @AlliedMbecker. For more information, access www.AlliedBioNutrition.com.
DISCLAIMER: THE MATERIAL ABOVE AND ON THIS PAGE IS FOR CONSUMER INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. NOTHING ON THIS PAGE IS INTENDED AS, OR SHOULD BE CONSTRUED AS, LEGAL ADVICE. SUPPLEMENT COMPANIES SHOULD CONSULT WITH THEIR OWN FDA LAW REGULATORY ATTORNEYS FOR SPECIFIC LEGAL ADVICE ABOUT DSHEA AND AS TO REGULATORY COMPLIANCE.