I frequently get asked about taking supplements and when and how to take. In this post 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-two 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 absorption 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 when needed since my 20s, so for 47 years. However, I moved any supplements I take when possible, to oral sprays via the inside of my cheek or under my tongue for quick absorption into the bloodstream. 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 intake of whole grains and plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, and this can become hard to achieve.
Here is a 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. Smorgasbord Health Column -Shopping list by food and by nutrient
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 in 2020 with many available worldwide on Amazon: Body Nutrition Fish Oil
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: Nutrient recommendations
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 common additive 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.
Iron is more easily absorbed if taken with Vitamin C.. so a glass of orange juice. Avoid taking iron within 60 minutes of drinking tea, as it prevents absorption of the iron.
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.
©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2020
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope that you have found useful. As always your feedback is much appreciated. Sally