Bioavailability
More Than Just Swallowing

Bioavailability of nutrients doesn't get enough attention.   A lot of marketing money is spent getting us to choose a particular brand of supplement but how do we know where it is going; into our body or down toilet?

The problem is especially pronounced for mineral supplements or multi-vitamin-mineral supplements since most of them sold to the mass market are synthetic, hydrocarbon-based, cheap and use the lowest cost ingredients.  

With minerals, the cheapest production methods use elemental minerals which are just that.  

Take a piece of copper or iron and file off some very fine particles; what you have is copper or iron in its purest elemental form.  Swallow them and if you are lucky, perhaps between 1 and 8% might get absorbed.

On the other hand, if we swallow the iron, copper, magnesium or whatever from whole food it has a much greater level of bioavailability.  
Nutrient minerals are those contained in food since they are combined with a whole host of organic forms.  Combining the inorganic with the organic tremendously increases absorption and bioavailability. 

Ok, so what's the difference between absorption and bioavailability; aren't they the same thing?  No, absorption refers to the nutrients being absorbed by intestinal walls and actually making it into the bloodstream.   

The amount of elemental minerals that make it that far is very small, less than 8% and more often less than 5%.   The rest is excreted and all we have done is give that particular supplement a nice tour through our GI tract.

Absorption Problems

As it turns out there are a lot of things that lead to human mineral deficiencies or tend to retard bioavailability of nutrients into the bloodstream. 

The "minerals" page of the Organic Natural Health website does a great job of covering mineral deficiencies and absorption problems.

The more prevalent reasons for our mineral deficiencies include the following situations.

Mineral Depleted Soil

he first is that most soils used for large scale agriculture are seriously depleted of trace minerals and some macro minerals. 

It is plentiful in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) since those are the three that are added back but only because they make plants grow faster and greener

Nutrient Challenged Fast Food

The second reason for mineral deficiencies in the U.S. is our fast food lifestyle.

We simply do not eat enough fresh, raw fruit and vegetables.  Contrary to popular opinion, French fries do not qualify as a healthy vegetable although I recently heard that our government is trying to get pizza designated as a vegetable.

Over Medication

A third reason for mineral deficiency is because the U.S. is so over-medicated.  Big pharma could care less about curing anything; the idea is to keep everyone, even kids, on a lifetime program of drugs to alleviate symptoms and more drugs to handle the side effects.

A very serious side effect of prescription drugs and some over-the-counter meds is that they interfere with mineral absorption; that is, bioavailability of minerals.  

For example most antibiotics retard the absorption of zinc, calcium and chromium.  Seemingly benign non-steroidal anti-inflammatory OTC meds like Tylenol, Advil, Motrin and even common aspirin also inhibit mineral absorption. 

The body views all these and other types of meds like laxatives, diuretics, chemo drugs and most others as toxins to be eliminated. 

In order to rid the body of these "toxins", the body has to use its own stores of minerals which in turn lead to a compromised immune system.  Minerals are vital to maintaining a properly functioning immune system.

Competition for Absorption

The fourth reason is that minerals compete for absorption and an excess of one mineral may result in decreased absorption of another mineral.   The prime example is seen in zinc, iron and copper.  Copper is needed to convert iron to hemoglobin. 

If someone is taking a lot of zinc supplements less iron will be available for conversion since they compete for absorption.  Thus a secondary deficiency is created that could lead to iron deficiency anemia. 

Since the body’s requirement for nutrient minerals is so small, most secondary deficiencies have been tied to the consumption of an excess of some mineral supplement. 

Sales associates in many supplement MLMs contribute to this problem in that they are often under the erroneous impression that since their product may be "natural", they think we can take as much as we want and it can't hurt us.

Colon Plaque

The last reason for degraded mineral bioavailability is related to plaque buildup in the lining of the colon which prevents both mineral absorption and reabsorption of water.  

Plaque buildup in the colon gets back to our horrible fast food diet which is largely indigestible.  So not only is fast food deficient in many minerals and other nutrients, it works to hinder absorption of any desirable nutrients that may have made it as far as the colon.

whole house water filtration system

From Blood to Cell

Getting into the bloodstream is just the opening act.   Minerals have to be available for use by the cells in the body and going from the bloodstream to the cells that need them is the final act. 

To repeat, minerals have to be available to the cells and that is what is meant by bioavailability.

Burpee Gardening

So just out of curiosity, one might ask how a mineral gets out of the bloodstream and finds the cell that needs it.  
Thank your liver, the largest gland in the body. 

Circulating blood containing all those minerals and other nutrients from our last meal that actually got absorbed comes into the liver through what is called the portal vein. 

That makes sense since a portal is a doorway.   As the blood makes its way through the three zones of the liver, the nutrients are processed out and used where needed.

Since this is about bioavailability and not a discussion of liver function, if more information is needed, one can navigate to the liver for a layman's look at this vital organ as well as the other organs of the digestive system.

With that we will leave bioavailability and look at some of the other factors contributing to the need for supplementation in our daily diets.

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