Smorgasbord Health Column – Supplements – Absorbing the nutrients and avoiding the additives

Welcome to this week’s health column. Last week I looked at both prescription and over the counter pain medication.

This week I am looking at the use of supplements, the ingredients you should avoid and which ones are more easily absorbed by the body.

My research into absorption of supplements goes back to my days of running my diet advisory clinic and health food shop twenty years ago here in Ireland. I noticed that herbal remedies in tincture form appeared to work more effectively than their tablet format, and as a consequence I usually suggested that customers and clients use the tincture or liquid form whenever it was available, and if not move to capsules. The capsules were easy to break apart and mix with water, rather than have to crush tablets which was recommended if hard to swallow or digest.

Roll forward a few years when I was taking care of my mother who was on several medications (all tablets) to keep age related problems under control. She was 92 and had developed early stages of congestive heart failure. She had a pacemaker but she was now largely inactive, getting picky about eating and reluctant to drink fluids (except for banana milkshakes and black coffee). Her digestive system was unable to absorb her medications in tablet form and after changing to liquid or capsule forms showed a marked improvement in a number of physical symptoms. This was confirmed when diuretic pills she was taking stopped working and she needed an intravenous diuretic to clear the build up of fluid.

Methods of improving the absorbability of pills and tablets has improved in recent years but there are also new ways to take your supplements that increase that process significantly.

I have taken supplements in one form or another since my 20s, so for 45 years. However, I moved any supplements I take, to oral sprays via the inside of my cheek or under my tongue for quick absorption into the bloodstream, about 18 months ago. I was taking a cross section of separate nutrients but now find that a multi-vitamin spray, with additional Vitamin D in the winter months sufficient. I also use an oral spray for Turmeric which seems to have been effective against my usual joint pain in the wet Irish winters and is hopefully maintaining my immune system. I cannot say definitively that they work, only that I find they do so for me.

Why do we need to take supplements?

I would love to be able to tell you, that eating a healthy and varied diet provides you with all the essential vitamins you need, but I would be misleading you.

Good nutrition does begin with food, but today there is no guarantee that the food you are consuming, contains the same level of nutrients that it did 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. In some areas of the world, the soil we grow the food in is becoming depleted, and this results in less nutritious food.

For the younger generation with a very active lifestyle combined with heavy work schedules or parenthood, taking a booster dose of nutrients is probably necessary.

Also, as we age, we absorb food differently as I mentioned earlier, and this can impact the amount of nutrition we are obtaining. Once you become less active, you are likely to reduce your food intake, further restricting your ability to consume enough to provide all the nutrients you need.

Once you are in your mid-60s both men and women lose their hormonal protective elements. We need to maintain our organ health, including our brains and also bone density to prevent age related physical and mental decline. This requires maintaining a balance of healthy fats, moderate wholegrains and plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit and this can become hard to achieve.

Here is a brief summary of the nutrients we need to be healthy and the foods you need to consume. However, despite eating these foods, it is usually necessary to take some form of supplementation. to maintain healthy levels across the nutritional spectrum.

It is also important that the food that you do eat is fresh produce that has been processed as little as possible. For example, it may seem more convenient to buy your vegetables already cut up, but your cabbage or chopped lettuce has lost half its vitamin C before it went into the packet. And loses more each day it sits on the shelf. Take the extra five minutes to prepare yourself and you will gain a much bigger nutritional hit.

If you are going to take supplements it is important to do so with the help of a naturopathic doctor or from a recognised health food shop. I also suggest that you do your research online and find out from users their opinion of the product you are choosing.

What exactly is in the supplements that you are buying.

It is very important that you buy supplements for quality and not quantity. They are not all created equal, and some of the cheap deals that you find online, come with small amounts of the expected nutrient, but an abundance of other ingredients that are not going to add to your nutritional profile and could be harmful. There is even an ingredient to make sure the pill rolls through manufacturing machines smoothly!

I know it is time consuming, but it is important to read the small print (very small print) on the side of the bottles before buying. 

It is important to make sure that the supplement is FREE from artificial colourants and flavours, dairy, wheat, yeast, and added sugar.  Also that it is suitable for Vegetarians and Vegans, which means that no animal products have been used. That is except in the use of high quality fish oils and here is a list of the top recommended for purity, freshness and EPA and DHA Omega 3 Fatty Acids:

Check the brand against others for amount of active ingredient, usually expressed as percentage of RDA – Recommended Daily Allowance and you will find these tables useful:

The problem with most supplements in tablet form is that the active nutritional ingredient is wrapped up in a bundle of additives to give it shape and substance. Apart from making it difficult for the body to process and absorb, it can introduce unwanted contaminants into the body. This is particularly the case with some of the cheaper nutritional supplements on the market that may have more of the latter than the intended nutrient.

If you look on the label, you are likely to find some of the following ingredients. Some are across all types of supplements and are relatively harmless, but others have been identified as carcinogens or allergens.

Lactose, malitol, sorbitol, xylitol – these are used to bind the ingredients together.. especially when the active ingredient is very small and needs some substance and weight to resemble a tablet.

Specific coatings to make larger tablets easier to swallow, and also to prevent the breakdown of the pill before it reaches the intestines where it dissolves (allegedly) and is processed along with food to be distributed into the blood stream.

Propyl paraben as a preservative. Parabens have long been identified with changes in hormonal function and linked to breast cancer.

Artificial colours are used so that pills can be identified which is important if you are taking several prescription drugs. This includes Tartrazine which can result in behavioural changes, allergic reactions (Hayfever symptoms and sometimes hives in certain individuals). Some of the collective side effects include respiratory problems including asthma, gastrointestinal upsets, headaches and joint swelling.


Artificial flavourings – chemically manufactured to make your liquid or dissolvable supplement taste good. Some will say that they are free from artificial colourants and you may find that it contains beetroot powder or similar.

One of the questionable additives to supplements and other pills is Magnesium stearate which is called a ‘flow’ agent. It does not add magnesium to your diet but is used to ensure smooth flow of the tablets through the manufacturing process. Recent research has identified, that when in the gut it may dissolve into a film, inhibiting absorption of other nutrients into the blood stream, and may also result in a compromised immune system function.

Another is Titanium dioxide used as a whitening agents in some pharmaceuticals and supplements. It is believed to be a potential carcinogen for humans. Along with silica which is also used, it has been shown to result in respiratory problems and in some cases lung cancer.

You may also find other suspect ingredients – MSG Monosodium Glutamate (allergic reactions and has been identified as a neurotoxic agent), Cellulose produced from wood pulp and gelatin from collagen in animal skin and bone from animals who may have been injected with growth hormone. Also starches made from wheat and corn which should be avoided by those with celiac disease.

To sum up.

I hope that this has given you something to think about when you are choosing your supplements. Ask advice, check the product for reviews and the amount of nutrient content, as well as the other ingredients.

Look for verified FREE from artificial colourants and flavours, dairy, wheat, yeast, and added sugar.  Also that it is suitable for Vegetarians and Vegans, which means that no animal products have been used unless it is high quality fish oil.

Choose a delivery method that suits you best and take the supplement at the recommended time of day, before or after meals.

For example – In the morning.

B.Vitamins – water soluble –  to give you an energy boost.

Vitamin C – water soluble  – does not stay in the body long so better to split your dose into three, morning, afternoon and night.

Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin and is easily stored in the body.. take with dietary fat such as a glass of milk or after fatty foods.

In the evening.

Calcium and magnesium aid sleep and are best utilised by the body at night when it is in repair mode, including bones and muscles.

I hope you have found this useful and I look forward to your feedback. thanks Sally



25 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Supplements – Absorbing the nutrients and avoiding the additives

  1. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health Column – Supplements – Absorbing the nutrients and avoiding the additives | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  2. Great post Sally. It is unbelievable that Health food supplements use a preservative linked to breast cancer…. Sorry but someone should be shot for this! And they wonder what people do not trust the advertising on their products! Pxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have to catch them first Paul and the only way to really drive the message home is to boycott those firms who persist in producing sub-standard and sometimes dangerous supplements. They soon get hit in the bottom line. But unless they are called out and people start to read the small print they get away with it. xxx


  3. This is a very useful article. I too have been taking supplements since my 20s but this is the first I’ve heard of spray vitamins. Do you have a particular brand you recommend? I love the idea of instant absorption. Thank you SO much for sharing this knowledge, Sally.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health: Absorbing Nutrients  – The Militant Negro™

  5. Excellent info as always Sal. So great you spread this awareness for those who aren’t aware. It can be overwhelming for those just starting supplements with so many brands to sort through. ❤ xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – U2, Blog Challenges, Literary Column and Letters from America | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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  8. I cannot find the vitamin spray post I originally commented on but I wanted to tell you that I started taking Turmeric and D spray yesterday and rubbing on the Magnesium oil. I recently had a blood test to check all the electrolytes and everything was ok although the Magnesium level could have been better. That was my ‘control’ as I’m having the same in a month’s time and that result will show if there are any differences since starting the sprays etc. You may have read how I’ve been told I don’t have Ulcerative Colitis. There have now been so many mistakes at the hospital that I don’t know what to believe! That said, is there any way to avoid/deal with the appalling staining of the Turmeric on the tongue and teeth? It’s pretty grotesque for that to show in public! Also, where is the best place to rub in the Magnesium oil? I’ve been doing it on the inside of the wrists. If it says in the instructions, I wouldn’t know as the print is too small even with a magnifying glass! I bought all from Holland & Barrett and all are made by BetterYou. S xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a bit of a problem with the turmeric and it is a bright yellow.. I don’t find it stains my teeth.. I am spraying quite far back on the inside of my cheek. You might spray some onto a damp piece of cotton wool and then rub the turmeric onto the inside of your cheek rather than try and spray as it is a large bottle. good idea to have a base line for the magnesium for next time you are tested. I actually rub into my knee as it seems to help my joint pain.. Also better to rub into an area where you have a little more coverage so I rub into my stomach area. But you could rub into your upper arms. I am trialling the multi-vitamin spray now.. not quite as messy as the turmeric!! I am coming off both while I am away for a few days and will see if there is any difference. At the moment I feel great.. xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you! It’s tough for me to spray even the small bottle which is what I’ve bought. I spray inside my cheek but it’s difficult to go far enough back because my curled finger prevents me making my bunched fingers narrow enough. Can you do the required 10 sprays of Magnesium all in one go? I’ve been spreading them out throughout the day which is a bore requiring endless reminders on my phone! So does the multi include Turmeric? Thank you again. xx

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Wow what a great article! Chuck full of helpful information. We always try to teach our students to read labels because it’s easy to get fooled by the fancy pacakaging on the front. In the U.S now they have “Facts on the Front” it’s presented as making it easier. What I find most people stop there and don’t really read the ingredients. Your body will sure appreciate the vacation from chemicals! Thanks again for a great article, I will link to you for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad that you found interesting and thanks for taking the time to comment. Your olive oil sounds wonderful. We lived in Madrid for 17 years and always buy the best.. I do infuse the oil with garlic and herbs for our tostada with crushed tomato, onions and peppers… our breakfast even now we are back in Ireland..Will follow you now and look out for your recipes.. thanks Sally.


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