If you’re a Brain Warrior, you probably think about the nutritional content of your meals and may take supplements for added vitamins and minerals. But did you know that even if you’re consuming healthy foods and taking supplements, your body may not be absorbing maximum amounts of those good-for-you nutrients?
When you eat or take vitamins, digestive enzymes convert your food and supplements into tiny molecules containing vital nutrients. These molecules travel to the small intestine where they are supposed to be absorbed through the gut lining into the bloodstream. Then they’re shuttled to various parts of the body where they’re used for key processes that are necessary for health and well-being.
The problem is that this absorption process can be impacted and impaired by many factors.
Things that Interfere with Nutrient Absorption
- Low-quality supplements: Some supplements opt for the cheapest ingredients despite their poor absorption rates. For example, magnesium oxide is recognized as being poorly absorbed, but it is often used because it costs less.
- Alcohol: Drinking alcohol interferes with nutrient absorption in several ways—raising metabolic needs for nutrients, increasing excretion of nutrients from the body, and impairing the way nutrients are stored and utilized. In particular, alcohol interferes with the absorption of B vitamins—including B1 (thiamin), B3, B6, and folate—vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as the minerals magnesium and zinc.
- Medications: A variety of medications can hinder the absorption of nutrients. For example, oral contraceptives, proton pump inhibitors (used for acid reflux and heartburn), and the diabetes medication metformin interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12. Antacids also promote small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which lowers the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Some blood pressure medications that are diuretics may deplete magnesium, potassium, and calcium. In addition, antiseizure drugs have been known to lead to vitamin D deficiency.
- Sugar: Eating sugar can disrupt the absorption of vitamin C.
- Gut dysbiosis: Imbalances in gut bacteria can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, such as vitamin K.
- Lectins: Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that are found in a large number of plant foods, such as legumes. In some people, consuming these substances leads to changes in the intestinal lining that contribute to reduced nutrient absorption.
- Excessive stress: Being under high stress can deplete the absorption of many nutrients, including antioxidants, B vitamins, and many minerals. Stress can also increase the loss of nutrients from the body, increase the need for nutrients, and impact the way nutrients are used in the body.
How to Boost Vitamin Absorption
There are many different ways to optimize vitamin absorption so you can get the maximum benefits from nutrients.
- Eat a wide variety of foods. Consuming a variety of foods provides your body with a wealth of nutrients and helps promote gut health.
- Cook in a manner that doesn’t destroy nutrients. For example, boiling vegetables reduces vitamin C content by up to 50%.
- Eat slowly to maximize digestive enzyme excretion. Digestive enzymes help your body break down the food you eat and increases absorption.
- Eat healthy fats. Good fats, such as avocado, help with the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. A study in The Journal of Nutrition found that avocado boosts the absorption of two important nutrients—alpha and beta-carotene.
- Support gut health. Avoid alcohol and sugar, which deplete gut health. If you have to take medication that reduces absorption or that affects gut bacteria, take supplements and probiotics for additional support.
- Use high-quality supplements. Choose supplements that are made with high-quality ingredients.
Do You Need to Take Vitamins in Certain Combinations?
You may have heard that some vitamins are best absorbed when taken with others. For example, it has been suggested that vitamin K or vitamin C aids in the absorption of vitamin D. The truth is you don’t have to take vitamin K in order for vitamin D to be absorbed, and vitamin C doesn’t help with its absorption either.
In general, the combinations in multivitamins typically account for absorption optimization by watching ratios between minerals or vitamins that might affect each other’s absorption. Having your supplements analyzed by an integrative physician or functional medicine nutritionist is a good idea in case there are any that need to be adjusted.
To promote a healthy gut, which is critical for optimal nutrient absorption, take high-quality probiotics such as BrainMD’s ProBrainBiotics. If you’d like 21% off your order at BrainMD, just enter TANA21 at checkout. Stay healthy, Warriors!