When in comes to supplementation in your diet, it basically comes down to two things, bioavailability and absorption. In a perfect world we could get all the nutrients our bodies need through food. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and there are many factors that contribute to how well we are absorbing the nutrients from our food and supplements.


Over the last 50 years with the introduction of commercial farming and genetically modified crops our soil has become increasingly depleted. Because of soil depletion, crops grown in soil decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals then the varieties most of us get today, even if we are buying organic. Thus, modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows.

Furthermore, nearly 80% of all the process food in our country contains genetically modified foods, full of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and stabilized with trans fats and chemical preservatives and packaged in plastics known to disrupt our gut function, our hormones, cause cancer and birth defects.


The Organic Consumers Association has cited several studies. A Kushi Institute analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that average calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27 percent; iron levels 37 percent; vitamin A levels 21 percent, and vitamin C levels 30 percent. A similar study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal,found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19 percent; iron 22 percent; and potassium 14 percent. Yet another study concluded that one would have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamin A as our grandparents would have gotten from one.


So what does this mean for our health? One, we should try to buy local and organic as much as possible, and two, we need to supplement. On average 50% of Americans take supplements. But how do you know what supplements are best? Well, quality is everything! High quality professional grade supplement, sometimes referred to as ‘nutraceuticals’ (pharmaceutical grade supplements) have a much higher bioavailability than over the counter products.

Bioavailability is a term that refers to the amount of nutrients available to be readily absorbed and utilized. Nutrients ingested but not released during the digestive process for absorption are of no nutritional value. Therefore bioavailability may be considered the relative absorption of a nutrient from the diet or supplement. An index of bioavailability may be extended to include the relative accumulation of a nutrient into various tissues.


Most of my patients understand the benefits of supplements but end up feeling like they are grasping at straws and are willing to try anything that might help them feel better. Unfortunately, traditional medical doctors get very little training in optimal nutrition and necessary supplementation and can’t be used as a reliable resource. Thus, many people take it upon themselves to figure out what supplements they should take. Whether they read on google, heard a doctor talking about it on TV or from a friend that swore by it specific supplement  patients ultimately end up in my office with a bag full of supplements, have no idea if they are doing anything to help, and in reality end up with really expensive urine!


Here are a few things to consider when choosing supplements.


Always choose capsules over tablets..


Tablets have the least bioavailability of all the forms because of its compressed nature. Add to that the reduction of stomach acid production and release due to stress, aging, and digestive dysfunction and what you can end up getting out of tablets can be commonly referred to as bedpan bullets! Tablets also require binders, lubricants, coatings, disintegrates and other excipients. Some are even sprayed with shellac (called pharmaceutical glaze) or vegetable protein, frequently derived from corn, corn which in the U.S. is usually, a GMO crop. Many tablets also contain colorings and flavorings. Most high-quality supplements are only found in capsule form using hypoallergenic vegetarian capsules to provide the purest supplements possible.


Choose Active Forms..


The body requires conversions of many vitamins from the form in which they’re originally ingested, to the activated form that our bodies utilize most readily. Whenever possible, seek out products with raw ingredients that are active versions of nutrients, like Pyridoxal-5’-phosphate which is the active form of vitamin B6. Other examples include: Riboflavin – as riboflavin 5’-phosphate, B12 -as methylcobalamin and folate as L-methylfolate (5-MTHF.) Why is this important? People who are extremely allergic, chemically sensitive, and immune-compromised often have trouble making these types of biochemical conversions. Other factors such as age and genetic predisposition can also contribute to an inability to absorb nutrients through food or supplements. When activated forms of nutrients are taken, the risk of supplements not being absorbed is minimized.

Professional supplements are generally speaking, more potent and as such, can require they be taken while under the care of a medical practitioner. Their manufacturers tend to formulate products based on dosages used in scientific studies. This is important because studies form the basis from which most supplements are created and from which most doses are recommended. If the recommended dose is too low, it will not be effective (meaning the supplement won’t have the desired effect.) With some supplements, taking higher doses than what is recommended can be harmless. But with others, taking a supplement in too high a dose can be dangerous, resulting in liver toxicity and perhaps even leading to something more serious, what in the supplement industry is often called an “adverse event.”

Liver markers on lab tests can reveal elevated enzymes (a marker of dysfunction) when the liver is forced to process supplements that contain contaminants. Doctors often blame nutritional supplements in general and advise patients to stop taking any supplements. Thankfully, professional supplement brands routinely exclude impure additives and are more likely to be free of excipients which can interfere with absorption and bioavailability in sensitive people.

Professional grade products do cost a little more. But, considering all the benefits, it’s a small price to pay for your health and your peace of mind.


Nicole James CFMP CNC