How much do we know about the food we eat and supplements we take? We can gather a lot of information from reading nutritional labels on the packaging for foods and dietary supplements. Now known as the Nutrition Facts labels, they include serving information, calories, and a list of nutrients with the percent daily value for each. One thing you won’t find on the Nutrition Facts label is the bioavailability of these nutrients.
Although not discussed often, this factor is important to think about when evaluating your daily diet and overall health, particularly if you are considering dietary supplements. There are several reasons you won’t find the bioavailability measure included on Nutrition Facts labels. Before we get into that, let’s first take a step back to answer the question:
What is bioavailability?
It’s important to note that bioavailability measurements come into play when evaluating drugs, nutrition, and the environment. For purposes of this article, we are more interested in bioavailability as it relates to nutrition, specifically dietary supplements.
Putting it simply, we can define bioavailability as a measure of how well a substance can be absorbed and then used or stored by your body. This measure indicates the proportion of a nutrient absorbed, digested, and processed for use by your body. A vitamin with higher bioavailability will distribute more of the nutrients to the areas in your body that need it.
To give you an idea, when you receive medication through an IV, it becomes 100% bioavailable because it directly enters the bloodstream. The medicine doesn’t go through any absorption process when a patient receives it through an IV. Nutrients in food and supplements have bioavailabilities less than 100% because they are absorbed through your digestive system.
What is a bioavailable supplement?
Bioavailable supplements are nutrients added to your daily diet that your body absorbs and uses or stores. These nutrients promote healthy living and can be vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbs, and amino acids, among others. Supplements come in several different forms, including tablets, gel caps, gummies, powders, and liquids.
Most importantly, bioavailability ranges will differ among various vitamins and minerals. Some supplements are designed to be highly bioavailable, while others are barely absorbed at all.
Why is the bioavailability of a supplement important?
The bioavailability of supplements is important because people take them to fortify their daily diet. Packaging for supplements promises specific dosages of vitamins or minerals. Supplements with higher bioavailabilities ensure that you are receiving a dosage that is closer to the specified amount. Therefore, bioavailable supplements help you more accurately monitor your intake of vitamins and minerals.
Remember, your body will absorb a higher proportion of a bioavailable supplement relative to one that has a lower bioavailability. As a result, bioavailable supplements also help you feel the positive effects of vitamins and minerals more quickly.
As a bonus, looking for bioavailable supplements is well worth the invested time and effort. In the long run, bioavailable supplements give you your money’s worth in vitamins and minerals absorbed and used by your body. You won’t have to waste time wondering if your body gets the promised amount of specific vitamins and minerals. Your body will actually get the nutrients you paid for!
Reviewing the absorption process helps us understand the bioavailability of supplements.
Let’s start by talking about the difference between water-soluble and fat-soluble supplements. The tissues in your body easily absorb water-soluble supplements after they go through the digestion process. They are readily absorbed because they dissolve in water, and our bodies have up to 60% of water. After your body uses what it needs, it quickly gets rid of the extra vitamins or minerals. Examples of water-soluble supplements include Vitamin C and the Vitamin B complex group.
Fat-soluble supplements work differently. As you can guess, this type of supplement dissolves in fat instead of water. But this is not the only difference between these two types of supplements!
Unlike water-soluble supplements, your body stores any extra nutrients from fat-soluble supplements. Your body keeps them in your liver and fat tissues, and they are released when your body needs more. We have built-in storage tanks for fat-soluble vitamins! Vitamins A, D, E, and K are examples of fat-soluble vitamins.
Learning how your body absorbs supplements into your body helps us understand factors that can affect a supplement’s bioavailability.
The following things can affect the absorption of supplements into your body:
The health of your digestive system will directly affect the bioavailability of any supplements you take.
The digestive system is essential to a supplement’s bioavailability since most of the absorption process takes place there. So, if you are having digestive health issues, there’s a good chance it will affect the benefits you could receive from supplements. Just another great reason to make sure you have a healthy gut!
For example, someone with inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) have difficulty absorbing the nutrients from supplements.
Scientists believe that the time of day can affect the absorption of supplements.
As you sleep, your digestive system slows down. Therefore, nutrition experts recommend taking most supplements in the morning for efficient absorption.
However, there may be exceptions, including melatonin. Sleep experts recommend taking melatonin about 2 hours before your bedtime. If you are on a regular sleep schedule, don’t want to be dozing off in the middle of the day!
Having food in your stomach can affect bioavailability.
In most cases, taking supplements with food stimulates digestion and boosts absorption, therefore increasing bioavailability. The food in your stomach will jump-start your digestive system.
Because Vitamins A, D, E, K are fat-soluble, you should take them with food to help with absorption. You should include at least a teaspoon of fat in the food you eat with your fat-soluble supplements.
As a side note, some supplements may cause nausea if taken on an empty stomach. These issues could lead to the supplement exiting your body before your body can absorb it.
Just as including fat in your diet is essential for fat-soluble supplements, drinking enough liquids is important when taking water-soluble supplements. So pour yourself a tall glass of water to drink with your vitamins and be sure to stay hydrated throughout the day.
If you are low in specific vitamins or minerals, a supplement may have higher bioavailability for you.
The amount of the supplement absorbed will depend on how much your body needs that vitamin or mineral. For example, when a woman becomes pregnant, her overall nutritional needs increase. Because of this increase, she will absorb and retain more vitamins and minerals.
The compounds in foods and drinks interact with the nutrients in supplements in a variety of ways. For example, foods and drinks that contain phytates and tannins can slow down the absorption process of certain minerals, including Zinc, Iron, and Calcium. Phytates are found in whole grains, legumes, seeds, and some nuts, while tannins are compounds present in tea. Depending on the supplement you are taking, you may want to hold off on that cup of tea in the morning!
Scientists also find drinking alcohol can negatively affect the bioavailability of supplements you are taking. Heavily drinking alcohol can destroy digestive enzymes making it more difficult for the body to break down anything a person eats.
A diet with too much salt can decrease the absorption of calcium. Calcium attaches itself to extra sodium in your body. As your body flushes out this excess sodium, the calcium gets flushed out as well. A reduced-sodium diet has so many other health benefits that it’s worth considering!
These are just a few examples. Other compounds in foods and drinks may affect bioavailability. Read labels carefully and do your research on how to get the most out of your supplements by maintaining a healthy diet.
Because stress can affect your digestion, it can play a factor in the bioavailability of supplements.
High stress levels can disrupt your digestive system and slow down or prevent the maximum absorption of vitamins and nutrients. If you find yourself facing increased stress levels, devote some time to mindfulness techniques – it will help you get the most out of your supplements!
By properly storing your supplements, you can prevent decreased bioavailability.
Where do you keep your supplements? You want it in a convenient location, maybe out in the open, so you don’t forget to take them. Just make sure the supplement container is tightly closed to avoid moisture and keep it out of direct sunlight. Heat and humidity will make the supplements less effective.
Some supplements may even require refrigeration. These may include liquid vitamins and probiotics. Be sure to read storage instructions on the label carefully. You don’t want to end up having to throw away any improperly stored supplements!
With your healthcare provider’s guidance, you should consider any current medication or supplements you are taking before adding a new supplement to your diet.
Taking one supplement may help the absorption of another. For example, Vitamin C helps our bodies absorb Calcium. However, other times, supplements may block or slow down the absorption of others. For instance, Calcium can block Iron, so you shouldn’t take these supplements at the same time.
Similarly, supplements can change the effectiveness of some medications, so check with your doctor before starting any new supplements.
Because there are so many factors that can determine a supplement’s bioavailability, companies won’t include the measure on their packaging. It won’t be the same for everyone. Do your research to better understand how much of a specific nutrient your body may be absorbing from a supplement.
Not all supplements are equal when it comes to bioavailability, so it’s important to choose wisely.
The factors mentioned can determine, at least in part, how much of a nutrient your body absorbs and uses. Also, as mentioned before, different vitamins and minerals have different bioavailability. For example, studies have shown that our bodies use about 25% to 35% of Calcium and an average of 56% Vitamin B12. These absorption estimates are based on the consumption of supplements.
It’s also important to consider the form of the supplements.
What does that mean? In this instance, we aren’t referring to its physical form – tablet, gelcap, liquid, etc.
We can best illustrate this with a couple of examples.
Folic acid vs. Folate is a great example of supplement form affecting bioavailability.
Folic acid is a form of folate, a Vitamin B complex nutrient that aids in red blood cell production. It is a synthetic form used in some supplements and fortified foods. In its natural form, Folate is found to be more easily absorbed into the body as your digestive system breaks it down.
On the other hand, the conversion of folic acid relies on your digestive system and your liver and tissues. This multi-step process makes for slow and inefficient absorption and a possible build-up of unconverted folic acid, which can cause health issues over time.
Although folic acid supplements are common, look for folate supplements to get the best bioavailability of the Vitamin B complex nutrient.
Another example to consider involves the Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)nutrient.
Your body produces the antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) naturally and uses it for growth and maintenance. Studies have shown that it can also help treat heart conditions and other health issues such as diabetes.
CoQ10 comes in two forms – ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Ubiquinol, also known as CoQH-10 or CoQH2-10, is the active form of ubiquinone. Studies have found that ubiquinol is up to 70% more bioavailable than ubiquinone. That means there is more CoQ10 in your body available to help with cell production.
Your body has to take the extra step of breaking down ubiquinone into the active form of ubiquinol. By taking ubiquinol supplements, your body skips this step and removes the risk of having unconverted CoQ10 stored in your body. Taking ubiquinol instead of ubiquinone means not only more CoQ10, but more efficient absorption!
Another thing to consider is your age. As we grow older (age 40+), our ability to convert ubiquinone decreases. So choosing ubiquinol over ubiquinone is even more important for the older population!
When looking for a supplement, the bottom line is to consider the form. Doing so can make a worthwhile difference in the amount your body absorbs and the efficiency of its effect on your body!
Buy your supplements from a store that has a diverse selection of bioavailable vitamins and minerals.
At The Healthy Place, we only consider bioavailable supplements when adding products to our inventory. When selecting the products we carry, we consider the form (liquid, gel, tablet, etc.) and the blend of nutrients and ingredients because we know these factors can affect bioavailability. We strive to carry supplements with optimal bioavailability.
Our Wellness Consultants would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about the supplements we carry at The Healthy Place. Contact us via chat at our website, fill out our contact form, give us a call at any of our locations, or email us at [email protected].