As the saying goes, “you are what you eat”. But, does all of what you eat actually get absorbed and used by your body? The answer is no. Perhaps the more accurate saying would be “you are what you absorb,” but that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as well.
So, let’s talk about bioavailability. Over the past decade, it has become a bit of a buzzword in the pharmaceutics and supplements industries, but what does it mean? According to the National Institutes of Health, bioavailability is “the amount of (a given nutrient) in food, medications, and supplements that is absorbed in the intestines and ultimately available for biological activity in your cells and tissues” (1). It tells you how well your body will be able to use the substances it ingests. This is especially important in regard to the supplements industry.
In 2013, the nutrition and supplement market was estimated to be worth $104 billion globally (2). This shows the increased prevalence of supplements around the world. In the United States, about 50 percent of adults report using dietary supplements to augment their diets. People believe that they are a good way to prevent inadequate dietary intake. And it seems to be working. People who don’t take dietary supplements had the highest risk of having any deficiency (40%), as compared to multivitamin-multimineral supplement users (14%) and other dietary supplement users (28%) (3).
Bioavailability can be affected by a variety of factors, such as the genetic makeup of the person taking the supplement, whether or not they have eaten, the size of the supplement, the absorption mechanism, and more (2, 4). In addition, bioavailability can differ from person to person. Even if two different people were to take the same vitamin supplement, it doesn’t mean that their bodies will utilize the supplement in the same way (1).
Here are some ways you can get the most out of your supplements:
- Try to eat a properly balanced diet that gives you most of the macro and micronutrients that your body needs.
- Most supplements should be taken with food because they can work together and improve their utilization in the body.
- Be aware of the interactions between different nutritional components. Piperine, an alkaloid component of black pepper, improves the absorbability of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. On the flip side, calcium and iron should be taken hours apart from each other because they inhibit each other’s absorption.
- Take the supplements at the right time. Some supplements are best absorbed if taken at different times in the day. For example, it is most beneficial to take vitamin B in the first half of the day since it can give you extra energy.
- Make sure to store your supplements in the proper conditions. Most supplements do well in cool, dry conditions (1).
There are so many options out on the market, so how do you figure out which one to choose? Well, the most important thing is to get information. Figure out what it is that you need – if there is a nutrient you are lacking, but you don’t know how to reasonably introduce more of it into your diet. A supplement would be a simple and quick alternative. Read the label carefully and take the supplement as directed. In addition, your safest bet would be to check with your healthcare provider to see if the supplement would be a good option for you. Sometimes, your body just needs an extra push.
1. Chan, Rachel. “Bioavailability of Supplements.” Nested Naturals, 2017. Nested Naturals Inc. https://nestednaturals.com/blog/bioavailability-of-supplements/
2. Pressman, P., Clemens, R. A., & Hayes, A. W. (2017). Bioavailability of micronutrients obtained from supplements and food: A survey and case study of the polyphenols. Toxicology Research and Application. https://doi.org/10.1177/2397847317696366
3. Bird, J. K., Murphy, R. A., Ciappio, E. D., & McBurney, M. I. (2017). Risk of Deficiency in Multiple Concurrent Micronutrients in Children and Adults in the United States. Nutrients, 9(7), 655. doi: 10.3390/nu9070655
4. Yetley, E. A. (2007). Multivitamin and multimineral dietary supplements: definitions, characterization, bioavailability, and drug interactions. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(1), Pages 269S-276S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.1.269S
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