Take a stroll into the vitamin aisle of a Pharmacy, Whole Foods or other grocery store and you will likely be overwhelmed with the vast amount of vitamins, minerals, herbs and essential oils that line the shelves. With so many different brands and options for Vitamin C how are you supposed to know which will really support your body best? The world of vitamins can be a confusing area, especially for those who are unfamiliar with these mind boggling nutritional supplements. First and foremost it is important to know that all vitamins are not created equal. Consumers spend billions of dollars on these types of supplements each year and educating yourselves is the best way to ensure purchasing the best quality and most effective vitamins on the market.
Vitamin Types & Vitamin Delivery
There are two types of vitamins: water soluble and fat soluble. Water-soluble vitamins travel through the body freely, and excess amounts usually are excreted by the kidneys. Unlike fat soluble vitamins, these are not as likely to reach toxic levels in your body. Fat Soluble vitamins are stored in your body’s cells and are not excreted as easily as water-soluble vitamins, therefore they do not need to be consumed as often as water-soluble vitamins. Though adequate amounts are needed, too much of a fat-soluble vitamin could become toxic. Vitamins A, D, E & K are all fat soluble. While the B Vitamins, Pantothenic acid, Biotin, Folic acid and Vitamin C are all water soluble.
While it would be ideal to obtain all the vitamins your body needs strictly through whole food sources, this is not always practical. There are three different types of vitamin supplement delivery systems; tablets, liquid and capsules. You want to ensure that you are buying something that will dissolve properly and not just pass through your body. Tablets are the most common form of vitamin supplement and they are created by mixing the vitamin in with an organic or inorganic cement then pressing them into small shapes. In order for tablets to dissolve properly in you, organic cement should be used. To cut costs many companies will use an inorganic cement. Many tablets also contain artificial coloring and flavoring, as well as a sugar coating. For example, many vitamin C tablets are made to look orange and taste sweet, so that they are associated with oranges! But in reality Vitamin C is naturally almost white and certainly isn’t sweet. As a good rule, you should stick to Vitamin companies that are comfortable disclosing the fillers that they use.
Some fillers and binders that are fine to use and may add extra nutritional benefits are:
- Dicalcium phosphate – Natural filler providing calcium and phosphate
- Cellulose – Natural binder consisting of plant fiber
- Alginic acid/sodium alginate – Natural binder made from seaweed
- Gum acacia/gum arabic – Natural vegetable gum
- Calcium or magnesium stearate – Natural lubricant (usually from animal source)
- Silica – Natural lubricant
- Zein – Corn protein for coating the tablet
- Brazil wax – Natural coating from palm trees
Capsules are gelatin containers that dissolve quickly and are not compressed like tablets. For this reason, you will likely have to take two of them to equal one tablet. The liquid form of vitamins will be better absorbed by your body than its pill counterparts. Unfortunately, many people do not like the strong taste of the liquid and they are not as readily available.
As previously touched on, liquid vitamins and minerals are best absorbed by your body. Approximately 90 to 98 percent of the vitamins and minerals in a liquid will be absorbed by your body. This high rate of absorption is essentially because there is nothing for your body to break down. They bypass the digestive processing and go directly into the bloodstream within minutes of consumption. Capsules, which are produced by placing the raw ingredients inside a natural gelatin that will dissolve during digestion, are designed to dissolve within minutes of swallowing and deliver their ingredients at one time. The absorption rate of a tablet is anywhere between 10 and 30 percent. They are not as quickly digested or absorbed and require more time to break down.
Unless otherwise stated, your vitamin absorption rates will be higher when you take your vitamins with food. With most minerals and many vitamins around 10 percent of the vitamin and mineral molecules will attach to the protein molecules in your food during the digestion process. This allows them to be absorbed and then used by your cells. Without food and the attachment to protein will not take place and the body will see the vitamins as a foreign substance and filter them out. Have you ever noticed that the color of your urine is a bright yellow or green after taking a vitamin? This is your body filtering out substances and chemicals from the vitamin that your body thinks it cannot use.
Vitamin Absorption Tips
- Be sure to take fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) as well as your multivitamin, with a meal that contains fat to ensure maximum absorption
- Take calcium carbonate with food because your stomach acid during digestion will help its absorption
- B vitamins should always be taken in the morning to be most effective and because they increase your energy levels so they can interfere with sleep
- Magnesium supports sleep and is best taken in the evening
- Calcium is absorbed most efficiently in smaller doses such as 500-600 mg at a time
Certain supplements are best absorbed when taken in combination:
- Take Vitamin D along with calcium and magnesium to enhance the absorption of the calcium, magnesium and other minerals
- Vitamin C helps increase the absorption of iron so take the two together of eat food rich in Vitamin C when taking your Iron
- Iron should not be taken at the same time as calcium because they compete for absorption
- A healthy digestive system increases your bodies ability to absorb vitamins efficiently, especially Vitamin D. Unhealthy gastric health can cause a binding of vitamin D in your small intestines making it unusable by your body. Avoid this by taking a high quality probiotic and eating or drinking fermented foods to optimize your digestive health.
The Quality of Your Vitamins
How do you determine how well your vitamins are really working for you? It is very difficult with all the options and the wide array of different price points to know how to select a good quality vitamin that will be worth the money and support your body properly. Vitamins and supplements are not subject to FDA approval or its regular testing of any kind. But there are some things you can look for to determine the quality of your vitamins. Also, possibly most importantly, pay attention to the way your body feels. If the vitamins are doing their job your body should be able to feel a difference after regular consumption.
Obviously you don’t want to waste your money on vitamins that won’t get the job done. So it is important to consider the cost of your vitamins. We all want to save money but you need to remember that manufacturers of discount products have to save money somewhere to reduce the cost to consumer. It’s possible they may do it by using inadequate dosages, improper nutrient forms or other cost-cutting measures. Vitamins are something where you get what you pay for, however that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy the most expensive brands. There are several non-profit organizations that check vitamins and minerals for quality and purity. The manufacturers can opt to submit their products for testing so they can bear the seal. Two of these organizations are United States Pharmacopeia and NSF International. These certifications will ensure that the vitamin isolates are the highest quality you can buy, and are the most easily dissolved by your bodies digestion process. The initials for certification will be next to the vitamin name.
Tips For Choosing Best Quality
Vitamin D: There are two forms of supplemental vitamin D—D2 and D3. Most inexpensive Vitamin D pills will be made out of the Vitamin D2 which is the kind of D that is synthesized by plants. However, Vitamin D3 is produced naturally by our skin and is therefore slightly easier for the body to absorb, or more bio-available.
- Amount of a substance that becomes available (reaches the target organ or systemic circulation) to an organism’s body for bioactivity when introduced through ingestion, inhalation, injection, or skin contact. Rate of bioavailability depends on factors such as the type of the substance (whether fat soluble or water soluble, for instance) and the composition of diet. The ability of a body to absorb lead, for example, is enhanced if the diet is deficient in calcium or iron.
Vitamin E: In nature, Vitamin E is found as a combination of eight different active compounds; four tocopherols, and four tocotrienols. Many vitamin manufacturers use inexpensive or synthetic versions of one or only a few of those eight forms. Look for a complete, naturally derived tocopherol/tocotrienol complex that more closely mirrors the natural vitamin E found in foods.
Calcium: Calcium supplements come in many forms including calcium carbonate, calcium lactate and calcium aspartate. Though more expensive, Calcium Citrate is more bioavailable for your body.
Fish Oil:The best source of essential omega-3 fatty acids are oils derived from the fat of cold-water fish. However, Unless these are carefully sourced these otherwise natural compounds could be contaminated with toxic heavy metals. It is best to look for Fish Oil products that are derived from fresh catches and waterways with minimal pollution. The International Fish Oil Standards Program rates for purity, so be on the lookout for brands that have been given 5 out of 5 stars.
You should always turn to foods that are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals before turning to supplements. However, in the case that supplements are necessary to help bridge a gap it is important to remember that these are not something you should be trying to purchase as inexpensive as possible. Chances are, that will backfire and the vitamins won’t have the positive impact on your body that they should. Sometimes you need to spend a little bit more to reap all the benefits.
Photo Credits: Jessica