Supplement absorption is hugely important, but most people have no idea how it works. If your supplement absorption is out of whack, your supplements don’t matter.
You’re diligently designing your supplement regimen, timing your pills and powders like a pro, and tracking your progress daily—only to find out that the nutrients aren’t being fully absorbed by your body.
This is the nutrition fanatic’s worst nightmare. But for some people, poor absorption is also a sad reality. If the bioavailability level of a particular nutrient is low due to poor absorption, its positive effects will not show in your system.
Luckily, those of us with lackluster absorption aren’t doomed to a lifelong state of nutrient depletion. But it takes a holistic view to get your absorption back on track. Concentrating on what you eat is important, but you also need to think about total digestion.
We may not give much thought to what happens after we swallow a tablet or drink a shake, but nutrient absorption in a complicated process that begins the moment food enters your system. Digestive enzymes break food down into molecules, separating the macronutrients from the micro. Foods rich in carbohydrates, for instance, are converted into glucose for energy, whereas protein-rich foods turn into amino acids.
This is an overly simplified explanation, but we’re guessing you get the point: your body needs all the help it can get in order to extract nutrients from food and supplements alike. Here are a few tips that will help this crucial process along.
The probiotic solution to poor absorption
IBS or constipation issues are warning signs that your digestive tract doesn’t have enough good bacteria. Probiotics are tiny microorganisms that help relieve gut problems and allow for better nutrient absorption.
One study found that consuming 1 billion CFUs of Bacillus coagulans helped improve amino acid absorption from a high-protein meal. A healthy dose of daily probiotics can help you get the most out of your food and supplements.
The small intestines tackle about 90% of all nutrient absorption; probiotics help keep gastrointestinal issues at bay. Always remember to keep your probiotic products refrigerated, unless specified. Sauerkraut and kombucha are two fermented food items high in probiotics, and good choices if you prefer a food form to a supplement.
Cutting down on vices (the least-fun way to boost absorption)
Sorry, drinkers: the cells that make up your stomach and intestines are impaired by alcohol, which cuts off the nutrient supply to your bloodstream. Regular drinking can keep the pancreas from secreting digestive enzymes and, more importantly, reduces Vitamin A levels in your liver.
If you suffer from Vitamin C deficiency and have been taking supplements, your best bet is to lay off cigarettes. Tobacco products keep your body from absorbing this vital nutrient. Smoking has also been linked to reduced Calcium and Vitamin D absorption. Both these nutrients are crucial at various points in a person’s life, and passive smoking is known to have an adverse effect.
The digestive enzyme boost
Think of digestive enzymes as the middlemen who help break down nutrients so that your body can utilize for a variety of physical and mental functions. Our bodies produce these enzymes naturally, but you can always take a supplement if your enzyme levels are depleted.
A number of supplements include digestive enzymes as an ingredient because they help deconstruct casein, lactose and gluten. Pineapple-, papaya- or fungi-based enzymes are a good idea for vegans, while animal-sourced varieties are available for everybody else. The best way to aid digestion and absorption is to pop your enzyme pills right before a meal.
The science of food pairings
When it comes to eating right and taking supplements, it’s all about balance. For instance, loading up on food that is rich in Calcium will reduce iron absorption. A good idea is to keep a tab on what you eat and rotate the items that are part of your everyday meals.
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. That means they’re better absorbed when consumed with fatty foods. Popping a Vitamin D pill with water is one way to go, but if you take it along with a meal, the absorption rate goes up by 32-57%. Avocado and coconut oil are also known to increase nutrient absorption.
Minerals, on the other hand, have a higher absorption rate when taken with acidic foods like cooked tomatoes. Calcium and Magnesium supplements need to be taken at different times, as they cancel each other out when consumed simultaneously. Amino acids and herbal medicines are best consumed half an hour before a meal, or at least two hours after.
Juicing it up
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Yeah, yeah; we know all that. Still, nothing comes close to a glass of real fruit juice on a daily basis. In liquid form, the nutrients are already broken down, fast-tracking your body’s ability to absorb them.
A test tube study found that pure orange juice can improve absorption of carotenoids. But remember that you need the fruit fiber, too. The best route is to keep the pulp in, go easy on the sugar and have just one glass a day, along with the rest of the orange.
Pace, don’t race
Supplements, when taken in excess, can cause a variety of side effects. Too much Vitamin C and Magnesium, for instance, can cause diarrhea. Water-soluble vitamins like the B Complex should be consumed at intervals for the best effect, as they don’t last in the body for more than a few hours.
A common mistake is thinking nutrient absorption only begins once the food is in our system. But our saliva contains enzymes that kick-start the digestion process. So like your parents told you, make sure you chew your food properly to begin the process right.