What Determines a Supplements Bioavailibility

I was asked the other day to explain what determines Bio-availibility in a multivitamin. First though what is bioavailibility?  Bioavailibility is simply how easily and completely your body absorbs the vitamins and minerals in supplements, or in foods. Something would have excellent bioavailibility if 100% of what you ate ended up in your blood stream. It would have 0% if nothing ended up in your blood stream. Of course few are 100% or 0%, but in-between. Below is a discussion of several different factors which affect bioavailibility

Forms of minerals

Minerals initially come from the earth. So in theory you could eat dirt and get all the minerals you need. But unfortunatly the minerals in dirt are in a from that we can’t readily absorb (low bioavailability).

Plants though can pick up those minerals in the soil and bind them into organic compounds in their fruits, leaves, seeds, etc. this is called chelation. Then when we eat that fruit or vegetable we also bring in those  chelated minerals, and since they are part of organic compounds that our bodies are looking for, they are readily absorbed.

If you’re looking at your supplements label how do you tell which it has? Simple is to look at the name. For example if it ends in “ide” like magnesium chloride or calcium chloride, then it is a mineral salt as found in dirt. One exception is Iodine – you’ll often see that as potassium iodide.

What you want to look for are minerals in a supplement which are “Chelated” minerals . These will often end in the “ate” such as chromium picolinate, calcium citrate, calcium carbonate, zinc citrate, copper glutamate, etc.

Unfortunately the huge majority of supplement manufactures use the lower bioavailable mineral salts because they are much cheaper vs. the much more expensive chelated minerals. Like the old saying though, “You get what you pay for”

Here is an earlier post I wrote which goes into more detail Dirt Has All the Minerals You Need.

Forms of Vitamins

Like minerals, there are different forms of some vitamins. As you can guess, then cheaper forms have lower bioavailability than the more expensive forms. The key one you’ll find is Vitamin E.  The nature form of vitamin E, as found in nature and much more bioavailability is d-alpha-tocopherol. The cheaper, and less absorbable form is dl-alpha-tocopherol. note the difference is the beginning is either d- or dl-. Both are vitamin E, but the d- form is much more absorbable. the dl- form is the same molecular structure, but just put together slightly differently. Imagine a stack of legos as the d- form. Then take off the single top rectangular block and turn it 90 degrees to the left. that is the difference in the dl- form.

Dissolution time

The final piece of the bio availability puzzle is dissolution time.  This is the measure of how long it takes a tablet to dissolve after you swallow it. The standard is 30 minutes from swallow to completely dissolved. Many inexpensive products though take much longer to dissolve and some don’t dissolve at all. If it goes straight through without dissolving, you can’t absorb any of the ingredients in it.  Ask a nurse about “Bedpan bullets”  Some they say you can still read the products name on the tablet. I’ve seen one x-ray showing 3 undissolved tablets moving through the intestine and colon. (These were a very popular grocery store and big box store brand that you see advertised frequently on TV and in print)

Like in the two previous sections, manufacturing cost comes into play.  The more tablets per hour a manufacture can press on a very expensive piece of equipment, then lower the per tablet, or per bottle cost is. So how do they increase the production speed? Simple press the ingredients in the tablet under much higher pressures so they can fly down the line faster without breaking.

The product I use and recommend tests the dissolution time of their tables during manufacturing every 30 minutes to insure they dissolve within 30 minutes. I’ve toured other plants where they never test the dissolution time.

How to Check quality

If you find a supplement that has the correct forms of ingredients, how can you tell if it is high quality or not. In a nutshell there are two areas:

  • Do they take steps to insure that what is on the label is in the tablet with the proper quantities, and
  • Do they insure there isn’t anything in the tablet that shouldn’t be in it such as heavy metal contamination, bacteria, insect parts, etc.

Here is an article that explains How to find a high quality supplement.

GMO vs Non-GMO Corn – What are the differences.

GMO CornIn the quest for cheaper food many farmers, have switched to Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn seeds. What Monsanto did to the corn was modify its genetics so that the weed killer and herbicide, Roundup, won’t kill the corn. This enables the farmers to spray the corn crops with high amounts of roundup to kill the weeds so that they don’t have to hand till each row. So a huge labor savings resulting in lower production costs, and cheaper food.  Concept is great, because we all want lower cost foods.

The problem is though that that Roundup weed killer, and its active ingredient glyphosate, is absorbed by the corn plant through the plant and the soil and is incorporated into the plant. Without the genetic modification the corn would be quickly killed, but it lives on.  All that glyphosate ends up in the corn we eat and all the foods derived from corn like corn syrup, HFCS, beef, milk, eggs, and hundreds of other food products.

What has also been found is that, as can be expected, there are high levels of glyphosate in the corn, more than 18 times than what is allowed in the US water supply and 65 times more than what is allowed in Europe. Worse yet is the glyphosate level in corn is 130 times higher than what has been shown to cause organ damage.  So what are you putting on your families table?

Not only are the levels of glyphosate extremely high, but also very high levels of formaldehyde and surprisingly the levels of many minerals are much lower in the GMO corn vs conventionally grown.

Below is a table listing the differences in toxins and minerals from two adjacent midwest US fields, one genetically modified corn and the other non-GM

Parts per million (ppm)
Ingredient GM corn Non-GM corn

Glyphosate 13 0
Formaldehyde 200 0
Nitrogen 7 46
Phosphorus 3 44
Potassium 7 113
Calcium 14 6130
Magnesium 2 113
Sulphur 3 42
Manganese 2 14
Iron 2 14
Zinc 2.3 14.3
Copper 2.6 16
Molybdenum 0.2 1.5
Boron 0.2 1.5
Selenium 0.6 0.3
Cobalt 0.2 1.5

Even though the GM crops weren’t sprayed with formaldehyde as the  glyphosate breaks down one of the by-products is formaldehyde.  You don’t want formaldehyde in your body until you’re laid to rest.

The easiest way to make sure you aren’t poisoning your family with GM corn is to buy only organic corn or grow the corn yourself.  But you’ll still get glyphosate and formaldehyde onto your dinner table. Corn and Soy (which is also genetically modified and sprayed with Roundup) are the primary grains fed to cattle, pigs, chickens, and farm raised salmon, shrimp, catfish and others.  So if a cow is fed an diet rich in GM corn and soy, then the toxins will be in the meat and the milk. For chickens it will also be in the eggs.  If you buy organic meats, milk, and eggs, then they must be fed non-GM foods so those are the sure bet for your families safety.

There are many genetically modified foods besides corn:

  • Soybeans – Most is GM
  • Corn – Most is GM
  • Wheat – non is allowed in the US yet but it is found in Europe for non-foods and for animal feed.
  • Rapeseed and Canola oil
  • Sugar Beet
  • Potato – These have been modified to increase the amount of starch.
  • Cotton – This not only is used for clothing, but also for animal feed.
  • Paypaya – Modified to be more disease resistance.
  • Apples – Apples may soon show up in the GM column. Not for herbicide resistance but to keep them from browning.

Some plans have been genetically modified to product their own toxins that will kill insects that eat the plant. This does save spraying the crops with insecticides, but they make their own which can’t be good for us.

Yes, organic foods are more expensive, but go to Home Depot and take a look at a bottle of Roundup and read the cautions. Just picture spraying that on your food as you cook it or mixing into the kids cereal in the morning.  Read the label, you’ll shop organic.

Sources: Permaculture Institute, Mercola, and GMO Compass

Listing of Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and MineralsWe all see different vitamins listed on supplements and food nutrient fact panels and talked about on the 5:00 news, but did you ever wonder exactly what each vitamin is? Well below is a table with all the vitamins and some information about each.

Note that the RDA column is the minimum amount of that vitamin necessary to avoided diseases of deficiency, it is not the amount you want to strive for. The level of each which has been proven through published medical research to provide therapeutic benefits like disease prevention, cancer prevention, etc are often far greater than the RDA. Think of the RDA as just passing school with a D. What you want for good health the A+ level.


What is listed below are the essential vitamins and minerals that your body can’t produce, or possibly produces very little. So these are necessary for life and to avoid diseases of deficiency lHere are some of the diseases of vitamin deficiency: Scurvy (C), rickets (D), pellagra (B3), beri beri (B1), biotin deficiency (B7), ariboflavinosis (B2), vitamin K deficiency, hypocobalaminemia (B12), paraesthesia (B5), night blindness (A). Click here is a list of the symptoms of each of these diseases.  There aren’t names for the mineral difienciey diseases, but each can have sibilating or life threatening consequences. The one which is very common is osteoporosis. It is usually though of as a deficiency of calcium, but it is really a deficiency of calcium, magnesium, boron, vitamin D and K.

Many will assume that they can get enough of what they need from their diet alone.  The answer is mixed. You can probably get the RDA levels or at least enough to avoid devieiency, but you probably can’t get the optimal levels. For example here is a sample of what you’d need eat every day to get the optimal levels:

  • Vitamin C – 1300mg – 18 medium oranges
  • Vitamin D – 1800 IU – 44 large eggs
  • Vitamin E – 400 IU – 2 lbs of sunflower seeds and one quart of corn oil
  • Zinc – 20 mcg – 5 chicken breasts
  • Magnesium – 300 mcg – 2.5 cups of beans.

Below are the vitamins followed by the minerals.

Vitamin (common names) Benefits Recommended amount (daily RDA* or daily AI**) Upper limit (UL) per day Good food sources Did you know?
VITAMIN A(Retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid — three active forms of vitamin A in the body — are retinoids, “preformed” vitamin A. Beta carotene can easily be converted to vitamin A as needed.) Essential for vision. Lycopene may lower prostate cancer risk. Keeps tissues and skin healthy. Plays an important role in bone growth. Diets rich in the carotenoids alpha carotene and lycopene seem to lower lung cancer risk. Carotenoids act as antioxidants. Foods rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin may protect against cataracts M: 900 mcg (3,000 IU)W: 700 mcg (2,333 IU)Some supplements report vitamin A in international units (IU’s). 3,000 mcg (about 10,000 IU) But use only beta carotene Sources of retinoids:beef, liver, eggs, shrimp, fish, fortified milk, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheeseSources of beta carotene:sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, squash, spinach, mangoes, turnip greens Many people get too much preformed vitamin A from food and supplements.Large amounts of supplemental vitamin A (but not beta carotene) can be harmful to bones.Your supplement should have all of its vitamin A as beta carotene. Your body easily converts it into vitamin A as needed.
THIAMIN(vitamin B1) Helps convert food into energy. Needed for healthy skin, hair, muscles, and brain M: 1.2 mg, W: 1.1 mg Not known Pork chops, ham, soymilk, watermelons, acorn squash Most nutritious foods have some thiamin.
RIBOFLAVIN(vitamin B2) Helps convert food into energy. yNeeded for healthy skin, hair, blood, and brain M: 1.3 mg, W: 1.1 mg Not known Milk, yogurt, cheese, whole and enriched grains and cereals, liver This along with folate and vitamins B6 and B12 are critical for maintenance of hearty healthy levels of homocysteine.
NIACIN (vitamin B3, nicotinic acid) Helps convert food into energy. Essential for healthy skin, blood cells, brain, and nervous system. Can help control blood lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides. M: 16 mg, W: 14 mg 35 mg Meat, poultry, fish, fortified and whole grains, mushrooms, potatoes, peanut butter Niacin occurs naturally in food and can also be made by your body from the amino acid tryptophan, with the help of B6.
PANTOTHENIC ACID (vitamin B5) Helps convert food into energy. Helps make lipids (fats), neurotransmitters, steroid hormones, and hemoglobin M: 5 mg, W: 5 mg Not known Wide variety of nutritious foods, including chicken, whole grains, broccoli, mushrooms, avocados, tomato products Deficiency causes burning feet and other neurologic symptoms.
VITAMIN B6(pyridoxal, pyridoxine, pyridoxamine) Aids in lowering homocysteine levels and may reduce the risk of heart disease. Helps convert tryptophan to niacin and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays key roles in sleep, appetite, and moods. Helps make red blood cells. Influences cognitive abilities and immune function 31–50: M: 1.3 mg, W: 1.3 mg51+: M: 1.7 mg, W: 1.5 mg 100 mg Meat, fish, poultry, legumes, tofu and other soy products, potatoes, noncitrus fruits such as bananas and watermelons Many people don’t get enough of this nutrient.This along with riboflavin, folate and vitamin B12 are critical for maintenance of hearty healthy levels of homocysteine.
Vitamin B12(cobalamin) Aids in lowering homocysteine levels and may lower the risk of heart disease. Assists in making new cells and breaking down some fatty acids and amino acids. Protects nerve cells and encourages their normal growth Helps make red blood cells M: 2.4 mcg, W: 2.4 mcg Not known Meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, fortified cereals, fortified soymilk Some people, particularly older adults, are deficient in vitamin B12because they have trouble absorbing this vitamin from food. A lack of vitamin B12 can cause memory loss, dementia, and numbness in the arms and legs.
BIOTIN Helps convert food into energy and synthesize glucose. Helps make and break down some fatty acidsNeeded for healthy bones and hair M: 30 mcg, W: 30 mcg Not known Many foods, including whole grains, organ meats, egg yolks, soybeans, and fish Your body needs very little biotin. Some is made by bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. However, it’s not clear how much of this the body absorbs.
VITAMIN C(ascorbic acid) Foods rich in vitamin C may lower the risk for some cancers, including those of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and breast. Long-term use of supplemental vitamin C may protect against cataracts. Helps make collagen, a connective tissue that knits together wounds and supports blood vessel walls. Helps make the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine Acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing unstable molecules that can damage cellsBolsters the immune system M: 90 mg, W: 75 mgSmokers: Add 35 mg 2,000 mg Fruits and fruit juices (especially citrus), potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts Vitamin C works along with Vitamin E to recharge its antioxidant powers. This is a case where the two together are far superior to either individually.
CHOLINE Helps make and release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which aids in many nerve and brain activities. Plays a role in metabolizing and transporting fats M: 550 mg, W: 425 mg 3,500 mg Many foods, especially milk, eggs, liver, and peanuts Normally the body makes small amounts of choline. But experts don’t know whether this amount is enough at certain ages.
VITAMIN D(calciferol) Helps maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus, which strengthen bones. Helps form teeth and bones. Supplements can reduce the number of non-spinal fractures. Necessary for the bone mineralization. Greatly boosts the immune system. Reduced levels of vitamin D in the winter are a major cause of the winter colds and flu. 31–50: 5 mcg (200 IU) 51–70: 10 mcg (400 IU) 71+: 15 mcg (600 IU)  4,000 IU (Current research is supporting higher levels, some up to 10,000 IU) Fortified milk or margarine, fortified cereals, fatty fish Many people don’t get enough of this nutrient.While the body uses sunlight to make vitamin D, it cannot make enough if you live in northern climes or don’t spend much time in the sun.
VITAMIN E(alpha-tocopherol) Acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing unstable molecules that can damage cells. Protects vitamin A and certain lipids from damage. Diets rich in vitamin E may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Supplements may protect against prostate cancer. M: 15 mg, W: 15 mg (15 mg equals about 22 IU from natural sources of vitamin E and 33 IU from synthetic vitamin E) 1,000 mg (nearly 1,500 IU natural vitamin E; 2,200 IU synthetic) Wide variety of foods, including vegetable oils, salad dressings and margarines made with vegetable oils, wheat germ, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts Vitamin E does not prevent wrinkles or slow other aging processes. There are several forms of vitamin E. The only effective form is d-alpha tocopherol. (dl-alpha-tocopherol is the much cheaper and very poorly absorbed form found in most cheap supplements.)
FOLIC ACID(folate, folacin) Vital for new cell creation. Helps prevent brain and spine birth defects when taken early in pregnancy; should be taken regularly by all women of child-bearing age since women may not know they are pregnant in the first weeks of pregnancy. Can lower levels of homocysteine and may reduce heart disease risk May reduce risk for colon cancer. Offsets breast cancer risk among women who consume alcohol M: 400 mcg, W: 400 mcg 1,000 mcg Fortified grains and cereals, asparagus, okra, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, legumes like black-eyed peas and chickpeas, orange juice, tomato juice Many people don’t get enough of this nutrient. Occasionally, folic acid masks a B12 deficiency, which can lead to severe neurological complications. That’s not a reason to avoid folic acid; just be sure to get enough B12.
VITAMIN K(phylloquinone, menadione) Activates proteins and calcium essential to blood clotting. May help prevent hip fractures M: 120 mcg, W: 90 mcg Not known Cabbage, liver, eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli, sprouts, kale, collards, and other green vegetables Intestinal bacteria make a form of vitamin K that accounts for half your requirements.If you take an anticoagulant, keep your vitamin K intake consistent.
Mineral (common names) Benefits Recommended amount (daily RDA* or daily AI**) Upper limit (UL) per day Good food sources Did you know?
CALCIUM Builds and protects bones and teeth. Helps with muscle contractions and relaxation, blood clotting, and nerve impulse transmission. Plays a role in hormone secretion and enzyme activationHelps maintain healthy blood pressure 31–50: M: 1,000 mg, W: 1,000 mg 51+: M: 1,200 mg, W: 1,200 mg 2,500 mg Yogurt, cheese, milk, tofu, sardines, salmon, fortified juices, leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale (but not spinach or Swiss chard, which have binders that lessen absorption) Adults absorb roughly 30% of calcium ingested, but this can vary depending on the source. Calcium should always be taken with magnesium, vitamin D & K, and boron to insure absorption into the bones and to eliminate the risk of heart disease and cancers which have recently appeared in the news.
CHLORIDE Balances fluids in the body. A component of stomach acid, essential to digestion Food and Nutrition Board 1989 guidelines: M: 750 mg, W: 750 mg Not known Salt (sodium chloride), soy sauce, processed foods New recommendations (DRIs) for chloride are under development by the Institute of Medicine.
CHROMIUM Enhances the activity of insulin, helps maintain normal blood glucose levels, and is needed to free energy from glucose 31–50: M: 35 mcg, W: 25 mcg 51+: M: 30 mcg, W: 20 mcg Not known Meat, poultry, fish, some cereals, nuts, cheese Unrefined foods such as brewer’s yeast, nuts, and cheeses are the best sources of chromium.
COPPER Plays an important role in iron metabolism. Helps make red blood cells M: 900 mcg, W: 900 mcg 10,000 mcg Liver, shellfish, nuts, seeds, whole-grain products, beans, prunes More than half of the copper in foods is absorbed.
FLUORIDE Keeps dental cavities from starting or worsening only when applied directly to the tooth enamel. DO NOT let it contact your gums. M: 4 mg, W: 3 mg 10 mg Water that is fluoridated, toothpaste with fluoride, marine fish, teas This is a potent neuro toxin and should not come in contact with skin or consumed in drinking water.
IODINE Part of thyroid hormone, which helps set body temperature and influences nerve and muscle function, reproduction, and growth. Prevents goiter and a congenital thyroid disorder M: 150 mcg, W: 150 mcg 1,100 mcg Iodized salt, processed foods, seafood To prevent iodine deficiencies, some countries add iodine to salt, bread, or drinking water.
IRON Helps hemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscle cells ferry oxygen throughout the body. Needed for chemical reactions in the body and for making amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters, and hormones 31–50: M: 8 mg, W: 18 mg 51+: M: 8 mg, W: 8 mg 45 mg Red meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, green vegetables, fortified bread and grain products Many women of childbearing age don’t get enough iron.Women who do not menstruate probably need the same amount of iron as men.Because iron is harder to absorb from plants, experts suggest vegetarians get twice the recommended amount (assuming the source is food).
MAGNESIUM Needed for many chemical reactions in the body. Works with calcium in muscle contraction, blood clotting, and regulation of blood pressureHelps build bones and teeth 31+: M: 420 mg, W: 320 mg 350 mg (Note: This upper limit applies to supplements and medicines, such as laxatives, not to dietary magnesium.) Green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, legumes, cashews, sunflower seeds and other seeds, halibut, whole-wheat bread, milk The majority of magnesium in the body is found in bones. If your blood levels are low, your body may tap into these reserves to correct the problem.
MANGANESE Helps form bones. Helps metabolize amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates M: 2.3 mg, W: 1.8 mg 11 mg Nuts, legumes, whole grains, tea If you take supplements or have manganese in your drinking water, be careful not to exceed the upper limit. Those with liver damage or whose diets supply abundant manganese should be especially vigilant.
MOLYBDENUM Part of several enzymes, one of which helps ward off a form of severe neurological damage in infants that can lead to early death M: 45 mcg, W: 45 mcg 2,000 mcg Legumes, nuts, grain products, milk Molybdenum deficiencies are rare.
PHOSPHORUS Helps build and protect bones and teeth. Part of DNA and RNA. Helps convert food into energy. Part of phospholipids, which carry lipids in blood and help shuttle nutrients into and out of cells M: 700 mg, W: 700 mg 31–70: 4,000 mg 71+: 3,000 mg Wide variety of foods, including milk and dairy products, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, liver, green peas, broccoli, potatoes, almonds Certain drugs bind with phosphorus, making it unavailable and causing bone loss, weakness, and pain.
POTASSIUM Balances fluids in the body. Helps maintain steady heartbeat and send nerve impulses Needed for muscle contractions A diet rich in potassium seems to lower blood pressure. Getting enough potassium from your diet may benefit bones Food and Nutrition Board 1989 guidelines: M: 2,000 mg, W: 2,000 mg Not known Meat, milk, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes New recommendations (DRIs) for potassium are under development by the Institute of Medicine.Food sources do not cause toxicity, but high-dose supplements might.
SELENIUM Acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing unstable molecules that can damage cells. Helps regulate thyroid hormone activity M: 55 mcg, W: 55 mcg 400 mcg Organ meats, seafood, walnuts, sometimes plants (depends on soil content), grain products Researchers are investigating whether selenium may help reduce the risk of developing cancer.
SODIUM Balances fluids in the body. Helps send nerve impulses Needed for muscle contractions. Impacts blood pressure; even modest reductions in salt consumption can lower blood pressure Food and Nutrition Board 1989 guidelines: M: 500 mg, W: 500 mg Not determined Salt, soy sauce, processed foods, vegetables While experts recommend that people limit sodium intake to 2,400 mg, most Americans consume 4,000–6,000 mg a day.New recommendations (DRIs) for sodium are being developed by the Institute of Medicine.
SULFUR Helps form bridges that shape and stabilize some protein structures. Needed for healthy hair, skin, and nails Unknown Unknown Protein-rich foods, such as meats, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes Sulfur is a component of thiamin and certain amino acids. There is no recommended amount for sulfur. Deficiencies occur only with a severe lack of protein.
ZINC Helps form many enzymes and proteins and create new cells. Frees vitamin A from storage in the liver. Needed for immune system, taste, smell, and wound healing. When taken with certain antioxidants, zinc may delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration M: 11 mg, W: 8 mg 40 mg Red meat, poultry, oysters and some other seafood, fortified cereals, beans, nuts Because vegetarians absorb less zinc, experts suggest that they get twice the recommended requirement of zinc from plant foods.
*Recommended dietary allowance **Adequate intake

Some information source from Harvrd Health and Linus Pauling Institute.


What is the best form to take vitamins in?

Walk in your local health food store, or grocery store vitamin aisle and you’ll see thousands of different products each with their claim that they are the best. Since most consumers don’t really know how to analyze the product, we’re left to reading the label, reading the pamphlet, watching the add, or listening to a presentation.  So every company needs some way to get a competitive edge in a very crowded space.

If we look at just basic vitamins and minerals there are four common forms:

  • Tablets
  • Liquid
  • Capsules
  • Whole foods
Looking at the list above, the first three are similar in that they are typically a blend of individual vitamin and minerals purchased in bulk and blended together, then delivered in three diferent physical forms. The last one, whole foods is a completely different product, with its own whole set of claims, so lets explore that one first. 

Whole Food Supplements

There are different twists to this category, but the basic premiss is that they take whole foods, strip out the fiber, dehydrate them, then blend different fruits, vegetables, and herbs together to get a blend which contains an array of vitamins, minerals, and other compounds which were present in the plants. The claim these companies make is that your body only recognizes nutrients from living things and that it doesn’t recognize a vitamin or mineral if it is synthesized in the lab.  That is a compelling argument since we have gained our nutrients from plants for millions of years.  
There are problems with this approach though. I was in discussions with one prominent supplier in this space – I was trying to get the exact vitamin and mineral content of their flagship product.  The label said it contained all the nutrients you need for a optimal health. A great claim, but no legal definition of what that is.  After many calls and emails back and forth they eventually said that they can’t put a Supplement Fact Panel (FDA legal disclosure format) on their product because the content of the product varies based on the season, where the plants were grown, the condition of the soil, etc. Just too many variables to control. For example the soil in many areas of the world, like New Zealand and parts of the US, is almost devoid of selenium, a very important trace element. So if plants are used from these areas, you won’t have selenium in them, but go to another area and you will. Take oranges, an orange grown on your backyard tree, or a tree 100 years ago, has 8 times the amount of calcium of todays commercially grown oranges, even organically grown.  The orange groves have been depleted of calcium. Oranges are grown for size, weight, color, and sweetness.  So if calcium doesn’t add to those characteristic, then they wont add calcium to the fertilizer. 
So with the “Greens” versions of whole foods you can’t be assured of what you are getting. In one clinical study a greens product contained far less of some key vitamins and minerals compared to tableted products. This was tested by measuring the blood levels of the nutrients, so what got absorbed and was available in the blood.
Some whole foods products say they extract the nutrients from the plants. For some nutrients this is how all forms of products obtain the nutrient, but for other nutrients it is difficult to extract it from a plant and/or there are harsh chemicals used in the extraction process that can’t be purified out of the product.
Marketing Claim – The common marketing theme with this category, like I said above, is that your body only recognizes what comes form living plants.  These companies have very compelling stories, some even have whole books with the founders theories on how this is superior.  They say that your body won’t recognize what is synthesized in the lab, it will just ignore it, or it won’t be used by the cells. 
If you review the legitimate published research, this just doesn’t hold true. In fact all the studies which have found that benefits of all the different vitamins and minerals have been done using standardized formulations of ingredients like what is in tableted products. Ask yourself this, if you’re body doesn’t recognize manufactured nutrients or molecules, then why did that shot of novocain work when you had your tooth filled? Why does your birth control pill work? Why does aspirin relieve pains? Why did codine ease the pain from surgery? Why does that little blue pill work? I think you get the point. All the drugs which have noticeable impacts on our body do work.  Don’t believe me. Just ask the dentist to not use Novocain next time you have a filling or root canal.   Unfortunately for most vitamins and minerals the changes you notice are gradual and they make slow improvements over time, not 30 minutes after you take it.
So looking at the research and legitimate scientific studies there isn’t any proof to support their claims that whole food or greens supplements are any better and the danger is that you don’t know what you’re getting, aside from great marketing.

Organic vs Inorganic minerals

One caveat when you talk about “Natural” vs synthetic is minerals.  Minerals, as found in plants, have the mineral bound to an organic compound. The plant brings in the salt or oxide form from the soil and binds it to an organic compound. It is this organic form which is highly absorbable whereas the inorganic minerals, as found in the soil, are poorly absorbed. That is why you can’t get your minerals by simply eating dirt.

Sadly almost all of the popular, lower cost, supplements use the cheap inorganic forms. All they have to disclose on the supplement fact is how many mg of the mineral are in a product, not how much is absorbable.

The high quality supplements use the chelated forms of minerals. This process is much more expensive, but binds the mineral to an organic amino acid or other organic molecule which your body readily absorbs.  These supplements do have the minerals in forms as found in plants are are absorbed just as readily as if it were in an orange or spinach.


Many liquid supplement manufacturers claim that because their product is in a liquid form it is more bioavailable. In fact, some even use phony statements regarding the Physician’s Desk Reference to support such claims. The statement they reference about liquid supplements being more bioavailable first appeared in the PDR under a listing for a specific nutritional supplement product. That statement has since been removed because it could not be substantiated.

Liquid supplement companies often contend that liquids are better because they don’t contain fillers (excipients used in tablets for disintegration, form, binding, coating, etc). This is perhaps the most illogical argument of all, since liquid supplements require many more “other” ingredients, including emulsifiers, solvents, preservatives, stabilizing agents, coloring, flavoring, and more. Generally speaking, the more vitamin and mineral ingredients there are in a liquid supplement, the more excipients that product will require.

Liquids also expose the ingredients to the air after the bottle is opened which can lead to oxidation and degradation of the product, unless strong preservatives are added.

The exception would be products for infants which are too young to chew a tablet.


A well-made tablet provides a very effective delivery system and is the chosen form of most pharmaceutical medications. This is because tablets have been confirmed, through years of carefully controlled studies, as a reliable and efficient delivery system for medications. Why would vitamin and mineral supplements be any different? Does anyone doubt that an aspirin tablet is ineffective because it comes in a tablet?

Tableted products can also provide an increased amount of active ingredient (almost 3x as much as a capsule and much more than a liquid or spray). In general, the stability of tablets is also superior to liquids.

Reputable companies will insure their tablets are formulated to meet United States Pharmacopoeia standards, which require full disintegration within 30-45 min. They are also formulated to meet standards for dissolution. There are stories of some very popular products not dissolving at all. Google “Bed Pan Bullets” and see what you find.

The individual ingredients in a tablet may be synthesized or extracted and purified from plants or other living forms.  Tablets, compared to whole foods or greens, can provide specific amounts of each ingredient. So if a tablet says it contains 200 mg of some vitamin or mineral, it will (just insure it is manufactured to pharmaceutical standards)

Also, as discussed above, make sure the minerals are in a chelated form to insure the highest absorbability.


Capsules can be a sub-category of the tablets, or greens  or whole foods can be in capsules as well.  From a production standpoint it is much easier and cheaper to set up a capsule filling operation vs a tablet press. They could contain the same ingredients as tablets,  just not as compact, so a capsule containing the same amount may have to be twice the size, or take twice as many.
One advantage of capsules are for those who can’t swallow tablets, you can open up the capsule and pour the contents out, or just get a pill crusher and crush the tablets.


Just a note on some products which say they are organic. Organic claims can only be made if the product is a dehydrated whole food, then organic certification would apply.  If the ingredients are extracted, isolated, purified and/or synthesized, then the Organic certification isn’t applicable and you shouldn’t see the USDA Organic logo. If they just say it is Organic then it is just marketing with no legal definition behind it. The same applies to cosmetics which claim to be organic – Organic certification isn’t applicable to skin care.

In a well manufactured product manufactured to pharmaceutical GMPs (good manufacturing practice) will insure that what is on the label is in the product and nothing else.  A high quality vitamin C ingredient will be only vitamin C.  It doesn’t matter what the source is, vitamin C is vitamin C.  Now if the manufacture uses low quality ingredients, then there could be other contaminants. These could be from the source (say oranges) or residue from the extraction process.


Tablets or capsules manufactured to pharmaceutical standards (GMPs) and using high quality (and expensive) chelated minerals and forms of vitamins as found in nature, will provide a very safe and highly effective delivery method.

Whole foods or Greens can provide the vitamins and minerals plus other phytonutrients found in plants, but the amounts of vitamins and minerals can’t be controlled or insured.

Vitamins/mineral supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet. You should eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, herbs, etc. with occasional lean meats. The supplement I take, which is the #1 rated supplement in North America is formulated to complement a very healthy diet, not a replacement for it.

Please feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions.

Do I need more than the RDA level of vitamins and minerals?

First lets look a the history of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): The RDA was developed during World War II by Lydia J. RobertsHazel Stiebeling and Helen S. Mitchell, all part of a committee established by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to investigate issues of nutrition that might “affect national defense”. The committee was renamed the Food and Nutrition Board in 1941, after which they began to deliberate on a set of recommendations of a standard daily allowance for each type of nutrient. The standards would be used for nutrition recommendations for the armed forces, for civilians, and for overseas population who might need food relief. Roberts, Stiebeling, and Mitchell surveyed all available data, created a tentative set of allowances for “energy and eight nutrients”, and submitted them to experts for review. The final set of guidelines, called RDAs for Recommended Dietary Allowances, were accepted in 1941. The allowances were meant to provide minimal nutrition for civilians and military personnel, so they would avoid diseases of diffiencey like scurvy, beri beri, plegura, rickets, etc.

Ok, that is good, but if your goal is to just barely avoid these diseases of deficiency, then the RDA is the minimum you should shoot for. But if you want to improve your health and prevent or stave off the multitude of degenerative diseases, then you need levels of many nutrients far above the RDA (or more recently the RDI) levels.

There has been a tremendous amount of research done looking at the benefits of supplementing with vitamins and minerals.  Just search www.PubMed.gov for any vitamin or mineral and you’ll be amazed by how many published medical research articles are available.

Sadly most doctors and dietitians think that the RDA is the maximum amount you should take, no, it is the minimum!  I heard one doctor on the Today Show a year ago or so talking about kids nutrition and warning parents to look at the nutrition in the foods they eat and to not give them supplements because they may exceed the RDA amounts.  I also just read an article about marathon training written by a dietitian recommending the same thing.  It is insanity for an elite athlete to not supplement. They can’t not get all the nutrients their bodies need from food alone.  As a proof point, the supplement I take daily is used by thousands of Olympic and elite professional athletes. If you look at the Vancouver olympics about 25% of the Olympic athletes using these advanced supplements took home medals.  

There are indeed upper levels which shouldn’t be exceeded because it can become toxic. Vitamin A for example. You shouldn’t take over 10,000 iu of Vitamin A (Retinol) but beta-caroteen, the pigment that makes carrots orange, can be broken down by your body into Vitamin A as needed. SoThere is no danger if your supplement has Vitamin A as Beta-Caroteen. you’re body will convert what it needs and no more.  Another one is iron.  Iron can be toxic and shouldn’t be supplemented unless you are anemic. In addition it is also poorly absorbed as a supplement, better to eat lots of spanish or liver. 

So you can equate the RDA to your kids report card. the RDA is just passing, like a D grade.  They will get through school and will graduate, but try getting into college with a D average. Wouldn’t you rather have your kid get straight As?  That is what optimal levels of nutrition are.  So upgrade your body from just passing with a D to excelling with As!

Dirt Has All The Minerals You Need.

iStock_000016764141_ExtraSmallDid you know that plain old garden dirt has all the minerals your body needs? So why do we need to spend money on expensive vitamins? Why not just go out and eat some dirt? Remember the dirt pies we made as kids?

This is really a great idea, but why can’t we just eat dirt? Well it is because the minerals in dirt are found as oxides and salts. We can eat these, but our body can’t readily absorb them in these forms. They dissolve just fine in our gastric juices, but the free mineral ions by themselves readily bind to something else – usually fiber. Where does fiber go? Yep, straight out the back door and very little is absorbed.

So how do we get our minerals then? Well we need to enlist plants. Plants will pick up those minerals from the soil and chelate them. That means they bind the minerals into organic molecules. When we eat vegetables and fruits the minerals stay bound to the organic molecules like amino acids, which our body wants, and the minerals are absorbed along with the organic molecules.

So does that mean that we can only get minerals from fruits and vegetables. Yes and no.  Yes you can, if they are in the soil, but many soils are depleted. In New Zealand for example the soil is almost completely void of selenium, so the produce grown there doesn’t have selenium. Many firms tout that their supplement are from dehydrated fruits and vegetables. In theory this is good, but you are hoping that they have all the minerals (and vitamins) in them in the right forms and ratios.  I’ve pressed a couple of manufactures to give me the nutritional breakdown of their plant based supplements and they can’t/won’t. What you do find when these are analyzed is that they are often very lacking in what you hope is in there.  double blind placebo controlled tests of the bioavailability, they often turn up low.

Ok, so what do we do?  The highest rated supplements use chelated minerals. These are minerals which are bound to organic molecules as they are found in nature, but they are produced, or extracted, in a controlled process so the quantities of minerals are precisely controlled so you know exactly what you are getting.  Do these have to be extracted from plants? No. They can be synthesized to obtain very pure highly bioavailable minerals, or they can be extracted from plants. The problem with plant extraction is that sometimes harsh chemicals are used to do the extraction and these sometimes can’t be eliminated from the final product, so you get a known quantity of minerals, but some undesirable chemicals come along for the ride.

You’d assume every company would use chelated minerals right? Nope, most use the very inexpensive salts and oxides, like you find in dirt. They know they are poorly absorbed, but they also know that most consumers don’t know what to look for, so they see 100% of the RDA and pick the cheapest brand there is – You’d be better off just to leave the bottle on the shelf. Assume that if it doesn’t specifically list chelated forms in the ingredient statement, that they used salts. You can spot these as they usually end in “die” like magnesium oxide, potassium iodide, etc.

I’ve also seen come companies making claims that only nutrients from living plants are absorbed because of a living resonance frequency, or some similar claim.  This makes great marketing material, but there isn’t a single scientific study which proves this – these companies will claim they have proof, but it is usually a thesis written by the founder or marketing department and nothing factual.

So what do you do? Simple:

  • Look for minerals in a supplement which are “Chelated” These will often end in the “ate” such as chromium picolinate, calcium citrate, calcium carbonate, zinc citrate, copper glutamate, etc.
  • The above must be listed in the supplement fact panel next to the weight or below in a section titled “Ingredients”. If they are listed in a section labeled “Other Ingredients” they they are being deceitful on the labeling and the product contains much cheaper salts.
  • Insure that the products are manufactured to pharmaceutical Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) This is your assurance that if it says there is 100mg of an ingredient, that it is actually in there.
  • See how the product you use is ranked against other products by an independent research firm. The best is published in the “Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements” by NutriSearch.  There are three top rated nutritional supplements rated out of over 1,600. These three do use the forms with the highest bioavailability of both the vitamins and minerals. They also verified that what was on the label was in the tablet. They verified that they were manufactured to stringent pharmaceutical GMPs. This guide can be purchased on Amazon, or feel free to write me and I’ll let you know how your product in question was ranked. Click This Link and click the “Contact Me” link at the top of the page and you can write me.

We’ve all see the RDA on foods, But do you really know what it is?

We all see the RDA amounts listed on the side panel of almost every packaged food. We also see on our supplements that they contain XXX% of the RDA. This is important information, but what is that RDA amount and how is it determined?

The RDA was developed by the US Army during World War II. The Army wanted to know what the MINIMUM amount of vitamins and minerals the troops needed to avoid diseases of deficiency such as Beri Beri, Rickets, Pellagra, scurvy, etc. So if you get 100% of the RDA of all the essential vitamins and minerals you should be just above the level of deficiency. Lets put this in another term we can all relate to. We all know in school that an “F” grade is failing, but a “D-” is passing, just barely. Well the RDA is the “D-” amount that just keeps you from developing the diseases of deficiency.

Unfortunately many people and even many doctors believe the RDA is all you need or a maximum. I even heard a pediatrician on a morning talk show talking about kids nutrition. She said that you do not want to exceed the RDA, so if your child takes supplements make sure that the amount of say Vitamin A they get in their diet plus the amount in the supplement doesn’t exceed the RDA!! This is insane, that is like telling parents to not let their kids do better than a “D-” in school!

For example if you look at the RDA (or now the RDI) for Vitamin C for an adult man it is 90mg (link to USDA RDA tables) but the nutritional experts recommend 1,500-2,000 mg of Vitamin C a day.  So 90 mg will prevent you from having scurvy, but to benefit form the potent antioxidant properties of Vitamin C to protect you from the environmental toxins and protect your cells it takes 2000% of the RDA.  So back to the classroom analogy, 90mg gets you a “D-” 2,000mg gets you an “A+”

Similar for Vitamin E. The RDA is 15 IU, but the optimal amount is 400 IU.  Can you get these amounts from your diet alone? Well the RDA probably yes, but to consume the optimal amount you’d need to eat:

  • 3.5 pounds of wheat germ (vitamin E fortified) daily, or
  • 2.3 pounds of almonds daily, or
  • 28.8 pounds of spinach daily, or
  • 3.6 cups of safflower oil daily.
I love spinach and almonds, but no way could I eat that much every day. It is estimated that to consume the optimal levels of the essential vitamins and minerals daily would require about 22,000 calories of food every day! Not very practical. So the only alternative is to use high quality nutritional supplements.
So next time you look at the RDA see that as the absolute minimum you should have, but know that it is far below what is optimal. Your body is made up of trillions of individual cells. If each one of those cells has all the essential vitamins and minerals readily available to function, grow, and multiply, then you will be your healthiest, but feed your cells only the minimum (RDA) and they will just barely function.

Vitamin K study supports triage hypothesis of degenerative disease

An analysis conducted by Joyce C. McCann, PhD and Bruce N. Ames, PhD at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute provides support for Dr Ames’ triage hypothesis, which proposes that our bodies have evolved to allocate often scarce micronutrients to functions that are critical to short term survival rather than to those which protect long term health.

Chronic insufficient intake of many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids causes DNA damage, mitochondrial decay and cellular aging, which, while not affecting immediate survival, can lead to degenerative diseases later in life. “Natural selection favors short-term survival at the expense of long-term health,” explained Dr Ames in an introduction to his hypothesis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006. “I hypothesize that short-term survival was achieved by allocating scarce micronutrients by triage, in part through an adjustment of the binding affinity of proteins for required micronutrients. If this hypothesis is correct, micronutrient deficiencies that trigger the triage response would accelerate cancer, aging, and neural decay but would leave critical metabolic functions, such as ATP production, intact.”
Drs Ames and McCann reviewed hundreds of articles concerning vitamin K and its 16 known dependent proteins for the current analysis. Studies of mice in which vitamin K-dependent proteins were rendered inoperative revealed that five of these proteins have functions that are essential to survival, and 5 are less critical. The body preferentially distributes vitamin K to the liver to preserve coagulation when vitamin K levels are reduced; however, suboptimal vitamin K intake and anticoagulant-induced vitamin K deficiency have been linked with such age related conditions as bone fragility, arterial and kidney calcification, cardiovascular disease, and possibly cancer. “A triage perspective reinforces recommendations of some experts that much of the population and warfarin/coumadin patients may not receive sufficient vitamin K for optimal function of vitamin K-dependent proteins that are important to maintain long-term health,” the authors write.
The report, which appeared online on August 19 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was published in the October, 2009 issue. The analysis is the first in a series conducted by Drs Ames and McCann to test the triage hypothesis. “Encouraging support for the triage theory from our vitamin K analysis suggests that experts aiming to set micronutrient intake recommendations for optimal function and scientists seeking mechanistic triggers leading to diseases of aging may find it productive to focus on micronutrient-dependent functions that have escaped evolutionary protection from deficiency,” Dr McCann stated.
This study supports the premise of general nutritional supplementation. If you give your body all the nutrients it needs in optimal levels then your body will use what it needs for survival today and will still have nutrients left over for long term health. 
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