As you may have already experienced, figuring out how to choose a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement can be a confusing and time consuming task. The purpose of this article is to look at several important factors that you should consider when looking for a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement and to provide you with resources where you can learn more.
CONSIDERATION #1: ABSORPTION
Here is one of the first questions you should keep in mind: Will the ingredients in the vitamin and mineral supplement you are considering actually be absorbed by your body?
There are many steps that the ingredients in your vitamin and mineral supplement (referred to as supplement from now on) have to go through in order to make it all the way through your digestive tract, into your blood stream and ultimately to the location where your body can use them. It's a complex process and there are many opportunities for the process to not go quite right and prevent your supplement ingredients from getting to where they are supposed to. Let's look at some factors that can affect the journey your supplement takes and also affect how well your body can absorb a supplement's ingredients.
WHAT IS BIOAVAILABILITY?
Bioavailability is the degree to which a nutrient is available to the body for use. More specifically, for a nutrient to be bioavailable it must be within physical proximity to the cell so the cell can use it. Also, for a nutrient to be bioavailable it has to be dissolved in some sort of solution so that the nutrient can be transported across the cell membrane.
From a non biochemistry perspective, here's a simple way to picture what needs to happen; the nutrient has to make it all the way from your mouth to the cell and be in a form the cell can use. For bioavailability to occur, certain things have to happen once you put that supplement into your mouth. Here are two of those processes. One is dissolution which refers to how fast a supplement dissolves. An example to help you picture this process would be taking some sugar, putting it in a glass of water and stirring it with a spoon until the sugar disappears.
Another process is disintegration. This is similar to dissolution only disintegration refers to how fast the capsule or tablet breaks into smaller pieces so that the dissolution process can take place.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR SUPPLEMENT WILL DISSOLVE
So how in the world are you going to be able to tell if the supplement you are considering does all this dissolution and disintegration stuff? Fortunately, it's pretty straight forward to figure out. A good way to know that your supplement is meeting these standards is to make sure there is some sort of "USP" designation on the label of the product.
USP refers to U.S. Pharmacopeia, an organization that was established to create state-of-the-art standards to ensure the quality of medicines that humans use. This includes vitamin and mineral supplements. An example of the kind of USP designation that you want to look for on the label of a product you are considering would be something like, "this product conforms to the USPXXVII requirements for disintegration and dissolution".
WHAT CHELATION DOES
Chelation is very important when it comes to making sure that the minerals in your supplement are bioavailable. Chelation refers to a process that increases the absorption of minerals such as chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum and zinc.
It can be hard to get minerals all the way to that bioavailable state that was discussed earlier. Chelation involves wrapping the mineral in an amino acid so that the body can more easily absorb it. This can improve the absorption of some minerals from only 10% absorption for a non chelated mineral to 45% and more for a chelated mineral.
So when you are looking at the label of a vitamin supplement and you find a trace mineral such as manganese as one of the ingredients, you want to see something like "Manganese (as Manganese Chelate)" on the label. This indicates that the manganese mineral has been chelated.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU PICK THE WRONG SUPPLEMENT
If the vitamin supplement you are considering doesn't meet the standards discussed above, it can pass right through your body and do you no good at all. To give you an example of this, I have actually seen a photo of an x-ray taken of a person's colon area with the vertebrae of their backbone off to one side. In this photo I could clearly see two supplement tablets, still intact, looking like they had just come out of the bottle. These supplement tablets were poorly made, never disintegrated and would soon end up in the toilet. Photos like these are a graphic illustration of the fact that just because you swallow your vitamin supplement doesn't mean your body is going to be able to use it.
ARE YOU WASTING YOUR MONEY?
With this in mind, let's look at this useless, undissolved supplement from a another perspective; a financial one. Let's say you find a great deal on a supplement and start taking it. We'll call it Supplement X. Let's also say this Supplement X costs $20 for a sixty day supply. You think you've found a great deal, however what if it turns out that your Supplement X has been poorly manufactured and is only 10% bio available. What this means is that your body will be only able to use $2 worth of this supplement ($20 times 10%).
And what happened to the other $18 you paid for the supplement? It went right through your body, that's what. Looking at it another way, you paid $20 for your sixty day supplement supply yet ended up completely wasting 90% of that $20 you spent. You literally flushed $18 right down the toilet. Just like everything else in life, there is no free lunch. When it comes to choosing a supplement, don't be cheap. Do your homework and find a good quality supplement that your body can actually use.
OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER
Are the health benefit claims being made by the supplement company provable? Vitamin supplement companies may claim that their product will do certain things or that the way they put their product together or package it will create a particular health benefit. This claim may very well be true but the only thing that matters is have they proven it. Are there proven health benefits from taking their supplement? In other words, have there been clinical trials that prove the health benefit claims?
Is the supplement you are considering safe to consume? Just because the supplement is in a bottle, the bottle has a fancy label and it looks like it comes from a big company doesn't mean the ingredients in the supplement are pure and safe. There can be many substances in that capsule that can have an immediate harmful effect as well as a harmful effect over the long term.
WHERE YOU CAN LEARN MORE
Specific details on health benefit claims and whether or not the supplement you are considering is safe to consume are beyond the scope of this article. However, if you would like to learn more about these health benefit and safety subjects, details on these topics can be found on web pages that I have provided a link to below.
On these vitamin resources pages you will also find:
If you have gotten to the point where you are looking for a vitamin and mineral supplement to take, congratulations. You have taken a positive step towards improving your health and taking better care of your body. However, make sure to continue that commitment to yourself by doing your homework and making sure that you choose a good quality supplement. It makes no sense to go that far then end up wasting your money on something that your body can't even use.