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Are You Absorbing Your Vitamins?

Maximize your investment in supplements and your health with these tips.

By Natasha Turner ND

Today there is overwhelming scientific evidence to confirm that vitamin deficiencies are associated with disease processes and the overall condition of your health. Vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and other essential micronutrient deficiencies suppress the function of the immune system, contributing to degenerative processes like arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, accelerated aging and diabetes. With statistics finding that 65% of Canadians take vitamins daily—obviously word is “getting out” that taking supplements can be health promoting.

However, this should bring these questions to mind: are you taking the right products, in the right combinations, at the right time, in the right forms?

Determining nutrient status
I have started doing an advanced form of blood testing on many of my patients from a company called Spectracell Labs. This test measures the status of minerals, vitamins, certain amino acids like glutamine and antioxidants like Coenzyme Q10 within the white blood cells. This is called intracellular vitamin analysis and I believe it is the most accurate way to assess our nutrient levels. There is often a big difference between the dose of a product you are taking, the amount present in your blood stream and most importantly, the level ultimately present within your cells. The nutrients within your cells are those involved with metabolism, healthy immunity, reproduction, detoxification, cellular regeneration and growth as well as many other body processes.

Surprisingly, once implementing this test into my practice, I discovered that many people who have been taking supplements had low levels of key nutrients—myself included. I did the test and discovered I was deficient in vitamin D, biotin (a common cause of hair loss that I never would have guessed I was deficient in!), zinc and antioxidants. This made me add a product or two to my vitamin regime, but it also made me realize that perhaps I should be taking a digestive enzyme along with my meals (when I take my vitamins and minerals) to ensure maximal absorption. I made this conclusion because I was taking some of the products daily and yet the levels were low (i.e the zinc.) I knew my vitamins were of high quality so it pointed to a problem with my own absorption, therefore taking the digestive enzyme would help.

Maximizing nutrient absorption and selecting good quality products
But what about you? Do you know if you’re getting the most bang for your buck from your supplements? There are many factors which determine a supplement’s quality and absorption. In general, here are the things that you should consider when selecting a product:
 
• Capsules or tablets? Not all forms of vitamins and minerals are alike, as some are more readily absorbed than others. Capsules are usually the most absorbable compared to tablets, however if tablets are made by a reputable company like ours, they are just as absorbable as capsules; and in some cases may be superior. Some companies make their tablets in such a way so that they dissolve at certain temperatures, rather than acidity, to ensure maximal absorption. Some tablets and timed-released pills may be difficult for some people to break down, particularly if they are experiencing low levels of stomach acid or digestive enzymes. Powders or liquids are often a great option, especially for kids; add them to smoothies or juice.

• Amino acid chelate forms are best for absorption: Better multivitamins have their vitamins and minerals in highly absorbable forms, like amino acid chelates and citrates, rather than sulfates, carbonates or oxides, although these less absorbable forms are still good for many purposes. Amino acid-bound, chelated mineral supplements can provide 3-10 times better assimilation than the nonchelated forms. Check labels for the words “citrate” or “chelate” to ensure you are taking the most absorbable form. Our TrueBASICS has calcium and magnesium in the citrate form for optimal absorption.

• Dry forms are available for people who are sensitive to fats: Fat-soluble vitamins are available in dry or water-soluble forms for individuals who are sensitive to oils or who are on a lowfat diet. Fat is essential for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, so a diet that is low in fat may increase the risk of deficiency of these vitamins. Supplementing with the dry forms of vitamins may prevent low levels.

• Natural is better: In general, natural forms of vitamins are better than synthetic forms. In some cases synthetic vitamins have been found to cause health problems rather than prevent them.


 
The natural forms may be slightly more expensive, but they are worth the investment. There are also fewer toxic reactions or potential intestinal upsets with natural forms. Look for the word “natural” on the label.

• Go for the ODI: When choosing a product, compare the optimal daily intake or ODI (rather than the RDA) with the minimum intake suggested for each vitamin to see if the levels are obtainable with a reasonable number of capsules or tablets per day. The Truestar vitamin line contains products at therapeutic doses. This means the ingredients are at levels similar to what a doctor would prescribe; a distinguishing factor from many of the big selling vitamins available in pharmacies and health food stores.

• Micronutrients: You should also consider critical micronutrients for some disorders, like boron (bone disorders and arthritis) and vanadium (blood sugar and immune disorders).  These are included in some vegetables and fruits, but you may need a multivitamin that includes them if you do not eat enough. The major vitamins and minerals, such as A, B, C, E and zinc, are usually more important for most people than these micronutrients, but they can be a useful measure for gauging the quality or suitability of a multivitamin.

• Vitamin K concerns: Some individuals may require vitamin K for bone health or proper blood clotting, while others may need to avoid it. Patients on blood thinners (warfarin or coumadin) or with heart disease should not take vitamin K and should choose a multivitamin without it.

• Mixed Vitamin E: There are eight types of tocopherols which make up vitamin E. A form of vitamin E that contains all eight types of tocopherols, not just alpha tocopherols, should be taken in conjunction with your multivitamin. Recent studies suggest that taking alpha tocopherols alone may cause a deficiency of the other seven types of tocopherols in the body. Tocopherols are necessary antioxidant protection and promote cardiovascular health as we age. Since most multivitamins only contain the alpha tocopherol type of vitamin E, we recommend taking a mixed vitamin E product as well to make sure you have all your bases covered. TrueBASICS contains mixed vitamin E to ensure the needs of our members are met; it made our product a touch more expensive, but I thought this was essential to include.

• Free of Fillers: Multivitamins and all other supplement products free of binders, fillers, artificial colorings, preservatives, yeast, sugar, starch or other additives are the best choices.

• Herbal Remedies: When purchasing an herbal remedy, such as valerian or echinacea, ensure the label says that it is “standardized.” If a product is standardized it means it is guaranteed to contain a certain amount of active ingredient. There is a big difference between taking 500mg of an herb and 500mg of an herb which is guaranteed to contain 45% of the active ingredient. Or also between purchasing the root of a plant while it is the leaves that contain the active constituents for medicinal effect. Always inform yourself of your options and be sure you know what you are looking for.

In general, so much of product selection comes down to knowing what to look for. As a layperson, it is very difficult and time consuming to discover these things on your own, and because vitamins can be expensive, I often recommend that it is definitely worth your while to pay a professional for a consultation to determine the best vitamin products for you.

Case in point: vitamin D3 is best for bones, rather than D2; calcium citrate rather than calcium carbonate is best for absorption; vitamin C works better when bioflavinoids are included in the formula; and iron citrate is the best form to take because it does not cause constipation, and these are just a few of the bits to consider, there are many more!!!
 
Remember that the form of the vitamin is important (as noted above), but the time the vitamin product is taken, in which combinations, and whether or not it is taken with food can also affect a product’s effectiveness.  A good rule to remember is to try to take your vitamins and minerals with food while herbal supplements are best taken away from food, for optimal absorption and effect.
 
You get what you pay for with vitamins and supplements. If a product is $5 and another brand is $25, it is probably because the $25 product is more absorbable, a higher dosage, or (unfortunately) perhaps a gimmick! Educating yourself is your best defense.

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