A few years back, I remember there being a bunch of stories on the news about different vitamin companies having so many additives and fillers that the little tablets really didn’t have much, if any, vitamin content at all. It really ruined my trust in the vitamin industry as I already was kind of suspicious of putting such high percentages of extra vitamins in my body by an industry that just really does not seem as regulated as it should be.
My trusted, wise and lovely older sister has such an eloquent way of putting things at times. She used to tell me that vitamins just made you have “expensive pee”. While her observations and exclamations are sometimes seemingly outlandish; I must say that my big sister is generally right on the money about most things.
What is Absorbtion About?
Your body absorbs macro nutrients; carbs, proteins, fibers, and micro nutrients; vitamins and minerals.
Micro nutrient absorption occurs in the digestive system. Micro nutrients serve as catalysts for macro nutrient absorption. So vitamin absorption is pretty important for your food intake to do anything but pass through your body as poop.
The Pills Themselves
Apparently, for real absorption into your body, vitamins need to disintegrate within about twenty minutes of contact in the stomach juices. A recent study of about 49 well-known multi vitamins showed that only half of them were able to disintegrate. Fillers and waxes that add bulk and bind the tablets for manufacturers also add to absorption issues.
Why does your tummy have to eat up a tablet within twenty minutes to absorb the micro nutrients?
Some Vitamins Need Help From A Friend For Absorption
Certain vitamins actually need other vitamins to absorb and work properly for us. If you do not have the proper levels and combinations then you may just be eliminating through your “expensive pee” the vitamins that didn’t have the proper partners.
For the most part, the benefits of combining nutrients in foods, or in a multivitamin/mineral supplement, outweigh any effects from competition, explains Mindell. Consider, for instance, that vitamin C greatly enhances absorption of iron and vitamin D improves calcium uptake. Because of these and other positive nutrient interactions, he says that combining vitamins and minerals in a multi means you don’t need as much of a given vitamin or mineral to receive the same benefit.
More About Absorption
- Stress: “A lot of people have digestive problems like indigestion and heartburn, and much of that is related to stress,” says Mindell. These conditions are common byproducts of our body’s biochemical response to being on constant, low-grade “fight or flight” status, he explains. Because this bodywide nervous-system response is antithetical to digestion (and most nonemergency bodily functions), it negatively affects absorption. Many people take antacids to reduce their symptoms, but antacids can also decrease absorption of some nutrients, so taking them can be counterproductive. A better plan, most integrative health experts agree, is to reduce your exposure to sources of stress – or adjust your attitudes and responses to better deal with the circumstances you can’t change. This can relieve indigestion and heartburn and thus restore normal absorption.
- Drugs: Nutrient-drug interactions can work both ways. For example, corticosteroids, often prescribed to reduce inflammation from sports injuries, decrease absorption of calcium and vitamin D. On the other hand, grapefruit and grapefruit juice can enhance the absorption of some pharmaceuticals like Tegretol (an anticonvulsant) and Zocor (used to treat high cholesterol), which may result in toxic levels. Mindell says that any drug has the potential to affect nutrient absorption, so it’s best to check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if your medications could be a culprit.
- Alcohol: Even when nutrient intake approaches the recommended daily amount, alcohol consumption can cause deficiencies, writes Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, in her book, The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals (HarperResource, 1996). According to Somer, alcohol damages the lining of the stomach and small intestines, altering or reducing absorption of vitamins and minerals. A 1993 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism confirms Somer’s findings and adds that alcohol also inhibits the breakdown of nutrients by decreasing secretion of digestive enzymes. The recommendation? Keep alcohol to a minimum.
- Caffeine: You don’t necessarily have to give up your morning coffee in order to absorb nutrients, but do wait at least an hour between consuming caffeine and meals or supplements. Iron is one nutrient particularly affected by caffeine, warn Somer and her coauthor Robert Garrison Jr., MA, RPh, in their book The Nutrition Desk Reference (McGraw-Hill, 1998). They note that caffeine can reduce iron absorption by up to 80 percent.
- Exercise: Intense exercise can be great for body and soul, but a tough workout (above 75 percent of your maximal oxygen uptake [VO2 max]) can affect how efficiently you soak up nutrients. “In the long run, working out improves intestinal motility, which is a major benefit for colon health,” says Annette Dickinson, PhD, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition. “But when your body is busy trying to divert blood and nutrients to working muscles, it can’t also stay focused on digesting and absorbing your food.” That’s why it’s important to wait a couple of hours between consuming your meals and moving on to your workouts.