Gastroenterologists Los Alamos NM
Los Alamos, NM
Las Cruces, NM
Las Cruces, NM
Las Cruces, NM
By Jack Challem
Why you don’t absorb the nutrients you should—and what you can do about it
A few years ago, while I was chatting with a nutritionally oriented physician, the conversation drifted to absorption. I asked him how a person really knows if he’s absorbing the supplements he’s taking. The doctor chuckled. “If your supplements go ping in the toilet,” he said, “it’s a sure sign that you’re not absorbing them.”
Scatological jokes aside, it turns out that a lot can go wrong after you swallow your supplements or eat a meal. Digestion and absorption might seem like straightforward processes, but for many people, the 30-foot-long digestive tract can hold a series of ambushes on your nutrients. And worse, some of the problems may arise from the very supplements you take.
The bottom line? You aren’t what you eat. You are what you absorb. The good news is that most bioavailability (the degree to which a nutrient is absorbed into your system and thus physiologically available) problems are relatively easy to solve. We’ve investigated seven of the most common, and we offer clear recommendations to help you get the most out of your supplements and foods.
the tighter the pill
problem: Not all supplements are created equal. Occasionally, tablets get pressed too tightly during manufacturing, so they take much longer to break down and instead wind up passing through your system either partially or wholly unused.
Vitamin companies follow US Pharmacopoeia manufacturing guidelines, which stipulate that a tablet must break apart in your gut in 30 to 60 minutes. That doesn’t always happen, making tablet absorption difficult. Over the past 20 years, many vitamin companies have shifted from tablets to soft- and hard-gel capsules because digestive juices break down the thin gel wall more rapidly to release the capsule’s ingredients.
Excipients pose another potential problem, especially in tablets. These compounds aid consistency in supplement manufacturing; the name is really an umbrella term for fillers, binders, lubricants, and disintegrants. Excipients are technically safe and approved by the FDA, but just because they’re safe doesn’t mean you want these artificial colors and sugars in your vitamins.
Capsules contain fewer excipients than tablets because capsule ingredients don’t have to be pressed together to form a tablet. Tableting machines stamp out tablets in fixed sizes, so companies often have to make a tablet bigger than is strictly necessary to deliver a certain dose. They do that by adding more excipients to the mix. Capsules use excipients to ensure that the powdered mixture is consistent and to fill up a hard-gel capsule so it doesn’t look half empty. Generally speaking health-food store brands of capsules and tablets contain fewer and less-noxious excipients than drugstore or discount brands. In health-food brands, the most common excipient is plant cellulose; drugstore brands usually choose lactose. Cellulose is innocuous, ...
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