If you live in the USA it is likely that you have been exposed to advertising suggesting that 90% of the vitamin tablets that you are taking are going down the toilet. Because these claims are so wide-spread I feel that is appropriate to address the issue of bio-availability and sort out the fact from the fiction.
Is this claim true or not? The answer is not a definitive yes or no because there is no benchmark given in which to base the claim on. I'll try to explain.
Supplements are a bit like cars. For example, at one end of the spectrum you may have a Russian built Lada which are cheap, utilitarian and very unreliable (at least they used to be) and cost a few thousand dollars or you may have a Rolls Royce which is the ultimate in luxury motoring and reliability and will set you back around a half million dollars. There is no comparison between the two vehicles.
The same principle applies to supplements
You can buy cheap supplements at the supermarket and what you get is a product which is manufactured to a price. This means that the cheapest possible ingredients are used as well as the cheapest excipients which bind the ingredients together. To give you an idea of just how big the difference of ingredient costs can be I will quote an example of one nutrient... Beta Carotene.
The overwhelming majority of manufacturers use synthetic beta carotene (even those producing the more expensive brands). The cost of synthetic beta carotene to a manufacturer is around $60 per kilo.
However, the 98% pure natural crystalline beta carotene that we use in our Total Balance costs over $2,400 per kilo.
The same differences can apply with Vitamin B12 which is generally 3% pure and costs $340 per kilo versus the 99% pure that we use at $12,000 per kg. The differences do not stop at the active ingredient level but can also apply to the excipients as well. Some cheaper excipients bind the ingredients together so well that after swallowing the tablet a large proportion of it passes right through your system and does indeed end up in the toilet.
To make matters worse those ingredients that are released are done so in the stomach and are largely destroyed by your stomach acids. When using these types of cheap supplements as the 'yard stick' the statement of 90% of the supplement ending up down the toilet is indeed true...
But, that is like trying to compare apples with oranges...
The difference between some supplements are as great as the example given earlier about the motor vehicles, not only in the quality of the ingredients used but also the delivery system employed or in most cases the lack of it. When I am talking about a delivery system I am referring to how the active ingredients get into your blood stream where they are needed to do their work.
There are only four effective ways in which nutrients can get into your blood stream.
- By injection.
- Through the mucous membranes of the mouth. (Only some nutrients)
- Via the lining of the walls of the upper intestine.
- Via the lining of the walls of the colon.
The methods which are used are as follows:
- Injection with a hypodermic syringe... only practical via a clinic or physician. B12 injections for example.
- Through the mucous membranes of the mouth by a sublingual tablet or liquid. Note: This has limitations because many nutrients cannot be absorbed through these membranes.
- Via the lining of the walls of the upper intestine. This is how our Total Balance is absorbed through the use of a special delivery system within the excipients.
- Via the lining of the colon walls using suppositories which are prescription items and do not apply to supplements.
Sadly the overwhelming majority of supplements do not have any 'delivery' system. They are simply made into a tablet or capsule and if they dissolve within a reasonable time in water that's OK... but, because of this solubility the majority of the active ingredients are destroyed by the stomach acids. As a result only about 10 - 15% of the active ingredients actually get into the blood stream.
This percentage number is what is considered to be the bio-availability of the product as is quite standard for average supplements. In comparison the bio-availability of our Total Balance is over 90%.
Why don't all supplements have higher bio-availability?
This can be summed up in two words... cost and know how. It is surprising how few supplement companies have the technical know how to incorporate effective delivery systems into their products. And, often the will to spend the extra money in production costs.
OK, so you may now be thinking to yourself ... what about these companies that are 'knocking' ordinary supplements ... are their products as bio-available as they claim?
The short answer is NO! I'll expand on this:
The companies that are making these claims are generally those that are selling liquid supplements. Not sublingual liquids because as I mentioned earlier that is not practical for many nutrients and certainly not for a general health supplement. The liquid products that are being sold are taken by drinking straight or mixing with water. Many of the companies selling these products are multi level marketing companies and rely more on hype than good science to sell their products.
So, what happens when you drink these products?
Very simply the greatest bulk of the nutrients are destroyed by the stomach acids which mean that the bio-availability of these liquids is no greater than an ordinary capsule which dissolves quickly in the stomach. Granted there are no tablet remains to pass through your digestive system intact but the greatest percentage of the active ingredients of the liquids are destroyed in the stomach.
Unfortunately these companies take advantage of the fact that people do not understand the principles behind the bio-availability and as such can manipulate their presentation to make it appear that the efficacy of their product is much higher than it is in reality.
Just a final comment on these liquid products! Many of them are very weak. If you are currently using them or considering doing so, make sure you find out the amount of ACTIVE ingredient per dose and what the ingredients are. As a consumer you are entitled to know that, so ask for it and if you don't get the information you can be sure that the potency is very low and you should avoid it as your money is better spent elsewhere. Some of these products are little more than water with a few nutrients thrown in.
About The Author
Mr. Matthews is the Chairman of Xtend-Life Natural Products, the manufacturer of Total Balance, the worlds first multi-nutrient supplement featuring an enteric coating. This unique coating allows your body to absorb virtually 100% of it's 84 nutrients. Available at ...
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