7 Secrets About Nutritional Supplements

June 10, 2009

It can be a little overwhelming when you look at all the choices out there. Not all supplements are created equal. There are varying quality standards from company to company, which can make a big difference in how much you get out of the products you choose.supplements

So how can you be certain you will be getting the proper potency and desired results from the supplements you buy? Here are seven secrets about supplements that will help you better understand what you are putting in your body.

1. The Secret to Proper Mineral Digestion

Before you get any benefits from a supplement, it must be digested to be utilized by your body. Everything is digested in the stomach and small intestine. The digestive fluids in the stomach are acidic, while the fluids in the small intestine are alkaline. These opposing facts are important and bind manufacturers to particular requirements when making an effective supplement. Many minerals, particularly magnesium and calcium, are alkaline and are not easily digested. That is, unless their pH levels are neutralized.

Experts suggest to ensure proper digestion, take your magnesium or calcium supplement between meals so they don’t interfere with the digestion of your food and that they are properly absorbed. Other experts suggest that if you do take your mineral supplement during a meal, make sure the meal has a protein. This makes sure the stomach is secreting enough hydrochloric acid for mineral absorption.

2. The Secret to Good Supplement Absorption

Absorption happens mostly in the small intestine. There are many factors that can affect proper absorption. For instance, some nutrients can only be absorbed in the first few feet of the small intestine. While others can be absorbed in the bloodstream basically anywhere in the small or large intestine.

Iron supplements are often given as iron sulfate, however this form often poses digestive tract issues. As a gentler alternative, iron bisglycinate doesn’t cause constipation or irritation in your gastrointestinal system, and it’s a chelated supplement that has been shown to be as much as four times as bioavailable as the average iron sulfate. This allows for a lower iron dosage, and in turn, less side effects and fewer interactions with other minerals and nutrients.

3. Zinc and Copper: How to Take Them

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a role in immune function, wound healing, and normal growth and development, among many other things. However, zinc competes with copper for absorption in your gut. If taken in excess, zinc can cause lethargy and copper deficiency. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for zinc is 11 mg in adult males and about 8 mg in adult females.

One particular problem to pay attention to is the fact that many nutrients compete for absorption. To ensure all nutrients from your supplement are absorbed, you may need to vary the dosage. A good example is zinc and copper. The usual recommendation is to take 1 mg of copper for every 15 mg of zinc.

4. The Best Way to Take Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of lipids (fats). They include Vitamins A, D, E, and K. While most people can get adequate fat-soluble vitamins in their diet, there are exceptions.

For optimum absorption people with digestive problems must take fat soluble vitamins with some fat (olive oil, cod-liver oil or with fat- containing meals).

You need to pay particular attention when supplementing with vitamin A ( in the form of retinol). Retinol form of vitamin A poses a greater risk of toxicity than beta-carotene because our bodies need beta-carotene to produce retinol. So, taking extra beta-carotene will not increase retinol level to toxic level.

5. Natural vs Synthetic

As is the case with anything we put in our body, it’s good to know whether natural or synthetic (or both) are safe. Remember that if something is natural that doesn’t mean it’s automatically safe to use.

It’s a good idea to discuss supplements with your doctor or nutritionist. This is particularly true if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or undergoing treatment for a chronic health condition.

One case where natural wins out over synthetic includes natural beta-carotene found in such sources as sea plants and carrots. It’s a more active antioxidant than the synthetic version.

Vitamin E is another example. D-alpha tocopherol is considered to have the highest biological activity of all the different forms of vitamin E. In its natural state, d-alpha tocopherol is a much more potent antioxidant than the synthetic form dl-alpha tocopherol.

6. The Secret to Supplement Manufacturing

It would be nice and simple if you could take vitamins and minerals in pure form. There would be no doubt about a product’s potency. Of course, it’s not this simple. In fact, every company has a different standard for manufacturing, which makes it all the more important to understand the nuances of how supplements are made.

The government only gives minimal guidelines on how supplements are stored and how they are coated, among many other criteria. So you need to do most of the leg work. In order to evaluate a supplement you must understand how they are absorbed and utilized by your body, and how the manufacturing process plays a part.

When manufacturers chelate or coat a supplement, they are making it more resistant to damage during digestion. Manufacturers use binders, usually vegetable gums, cellulose, and microcrystalline cellulose, to hold the tablets together. Capsules can also use binders to help affect the speed of a product being released into the bloodstream.

Fillers are also used in supplements. They help as a dispersing agent and extra bulk, as active ingredients are often too small to stand alone.

Lubricants are a mainstay with most supplements. They are used as a necessary part of the manufacturing process. Supplements are also coated. This is done to make it easier to swallow and to avoid the damaging effects of oxygen.

7. Watch Out For Some Fillers

If you have any dietary restrictions because of allergies or digestive issues, watch out for supplements that contain yeast, gluten, shellfish, sugar, and salt. They should all be listed on the ingredient list.

So, do you feel like you understand dietary supplements a little better now? It’s easy to assume when we walk into a store that everything on the shelves is equally safe and effective. Now you can look at those pill bottles understanding some of the complex preparations that go into them. Armed with these introductory elements of how supplements are made will help you make sure you get your money’s worth.

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