Maximizing absorption and efficacy
Like everything else in our culture, the debate over vitamins is a polarizing one. For every healthcare professional singing their praises, you can find another claiming supplements to be a colossal waste of money.
That hasn’t stopped people from buying in. We brits are spending upwards of 1.5 billion pounds on vitamins, minerals, and other health promoting supplements every year, and it likely to rise by a further 9% in 2022. This not only begs the question, are they worth it, but, are they working?
The answer, like anything, depends on who you ask. Some doctors recommend certain supplements, going as far as prescribing things like Vitamin D, while others advise against taking anything. Current research, unfortunately, can support either position, and here’s why.
One of these things is not like the other
When it comes to studies on supplements, the same clinical controls in place for drug research is often missing. Researchers routinely use self-reporting, as well as surveys when looking into the efficacy of supplements. Studies don’t always control for purity, and ensure they’re taken properly to maximize absorption and efficacy.
Let’s use Zinc as an example. During this pandemic, a good portion of doctors, including some that specialise in infectious disease, touted the antiviral properties of Zinc. But you can’t simply take a tablet of Zinc and expect it to work. The mineral has a positive charge. For it to work effectively, it needs to be taken with something called an ionophore. One such ionophore is quercetin, a flavonoid that gives plants their colour. Quercetin can be found in apples, grapes, berries, onions, green tea among others. When researchers combined zinc AND an ionophore, they found “in vivo evidence that zinc may play a role in therapeutic management for COVID-19.” Taking zinc, without an ionophore like quercetin, may not do much. But taken properly, it can be therapeutic when managing viral infections.
It’s not simply Zinc either, let’s look at Vitamin D. For those who may not know, Vitamin D isn’t technically a vitamin. It’s a cholesterol derived hormone also called, cholecalciferol. Of the various forms of Vitamin D, Vitamin D3 tends to work best when taken with another Vitamin, K2. Both of these being fat soluble, they’re best taken with foods that contain fat, otherwise, they may not be absorbed effectively into the body.
So, what happens when you take D3 and K2 to maximize absorption? All sorts of good things. Everything from decreasing glucose levels in diabetics, to reducing cardiovascular disease, as well as improving immune function.
Another example is iron, iron foods and supplements cannot be absorbed by the body without the presence of vitamin C, yet millions of people take both iron supplements or eat foods rich in iron without pairing with a vitamin C ingredients.
Vitamins and minerals rarely exist in isolation. They tend to tag along with a host of other compounds. When we understand these relationships, it makes supplementation more clinically effective, as well as cost effective. You’ll spend less on healthcare in the long run.
That said, it’s best to nourish your body with nutrient dense whole foods, as they tend to contain all the necessary compounds for maximum absorption.
“Let food be thy medicine”
This quote is credited to none other than Hippocrates, the father of medicine. During his time, supplements didn’t really exist. Although the ancient Greeks did use various plants and their derivatives as medicine.
Today, you’re best served eating a plant dense diet, with as much variety as possible. One reason I choose to take supplements is precisely because I can’t get everything my body needs from food alone on a regular basis. I also don’t take supplements every day. I’ve learned to find a balance. Being a nutritionist and food scientist helps.
There’s no shortage of bad information and outright misinformation when it comes to supplements and those looking to capitalize on an unsuspecting public. So, caveat emptor, or buyer beware
One thing I’ve come to realize, when it comes to clinical trials, you can find what you’re looking for. If you’d like to read a trial showing the efficacy of Vitamin C, it’s there. If you’d like one that says Vitamin C makes for expensive urine, that’s there too. Bear in mind, not all trials are created equal and parameters can vary widely.
Speaking for myself and my clients — I have no doubt there’s a time and place for a number of supplements. What works for me may not work for you, but as a general rule, vitamins work. When you match them with other compounds your body needs, taken with the right foods, at the right time, they work even better.
Kumud Gandhi is a Food Scientist, Nutritionist and founder of The Cooking Academy, she is a published author, food writer, broadcaster and wellness expert. You can follow her work on LinkedIn
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Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.