by Jason Sebeslav
Like most adults looking to maintain good health, you faithfully take a one-a-day multivitamin tablet and assume you’ve covered the most important nutritional bases. Mission accomplished, right? Well, maybe not.
Many experts now believe that consuming vitamin supplements in liquid form is substantially more beneficial than relying on solid pills – a belief that is supported by research studies. According to Gerhard N. Schrauzer, DSc, FACN, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, "liquid supplements contain the nutrients in a more highly bioavailable form, are gentler to the stomach, and sometimes are more suitable than solid supplements, especially for children and elderly patients."
No matter how good the quality of a multivitamin, that fact is many people may not be able to adequately break down a hard, compressed tablet and allow its contents to be fully absorbed through the digestive tract and into the bloodstream. The reason for this is two-fold. One, the vitamin tablet may be formulated using materials that interfere with proper dissolution and absorption. Two, the person taking the vitamin supplement, especially if an older adult, may be lacking the digestive function necessary to effectively break it down. In cases where both factors are at play, the end result is an unfortunate waste of money and an unexpected shortage of needed nutrients.
That is not to say that all supplements offered in tablets or capsules are necessarily a bad choice. Indeed, many reputable manufacturers go to great lengths to maximize absorption from pills and will have conducted testing to ensure adequate dissolution. In addition, certain vitamins, minerals and herbs are simply not suitable for a liquid format due to unpleasant taste, oral or digestive irritation, a need for refrigeration, and so on. While liquid formulations may be the format of choice, sometimes it just isn’t possible.
The problem with pills
To maintain their shape and consistency, tablets may contain a range of fillers and binders, and some utilize coating materials to improve the appearance, taste, texture or ease of swallowing. These extra ingredients (excipients) only add to the challenge the digestive system already has of thoroughly breaking down the solid structure to allow the dissolution and absorption of nutrients.
The problem is well illustrated in a recent study on the dissolution of 27 brands of calcium carbonate tablets. Using United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards for testing dissolution rates, the researchers found that 17 (63%) of the products were still less than 50% dissolved after 90 minutes. They also found that the amount of filler material in the tablets correlated with the decreased dissolution.
For those with the most healthy and robust digestive systems, breaking down solid tablets may be relatively efficient. However, digestive capacity can be hampered temporarily or persistently by a number of factors, including stress, sickness, medications, yeast overgrowth and stomach acidity, to name a few. Moreover, as we age our production of both stomach acid and digestive enzymes decreases dramatically. Therefore, the 50+ population who likely need a multivitamin supplement the most, may be the very same ones who stand to lose the most by taking that multivitamin in a solid form.
Missing the mark
Another shortfall of solid-form multivitamins was illustrated by scientists at the School of Pharmacy, University of Maryland at Baltimore. They studied the dissolution of folic acid in 9 brands of prescription prenatal multivitamin tablets. They found that only 3 met the USP standards for the release of folic acid, a nutrient well known to help prevent birth defects. In fact, "folic acid dissolution from 2 products was less than 25%."
The researchers further explained that certain nutrients have a particular location along the gastrointestinal tract at which they are best absorbed. Therefore, if dissolution is incomplete by the time the tablet reaches that area, the absorption of the nutrient may be significantly decreased.
The liquid advantage
A liquid multivitamin supplement offers a number of benefits over solid forms for people of all ages, but especially for older adults or those with known digestive issues. Among the benefits are the following:
As usual, Europe has been ahead of other countries in the availability of liquid vitamin and herbal products, as liquid format products have been a mainstay there for decades. Fortunately, interest among both consumers and medical practitioners is now spurring the manufacture of quality liquid supplements here in North America.
Sources: Journal of Medicinal Food, 1998 1(3); Calcif Tissue Int 1991 49:308-312; J Am Pharm Assoc (Wash). 1997 Jul-Aug;NS37(4):397-400; Prescription for Nutritional Healing by James Balch, MD and Phyllis Balch, CNC, Avery:1997
Jason Sebeslav has been involved in the natural health industry for over 20 years. He is the publisher of Health News Update, a consumer newsletter featuring the latest research findings in complementary medicine.
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