Liquid Vitamins And Minerals
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | February 22, 2005

One of the questions we’re asked regularly is about the absorption of the vitamins and minerals in supplements--specifically, the idea that vitamins and minerals in liquid form are better absorbed than those in tablets. The inquiries are the result of websites making claims about the absorption of liquid supplements. This Newsletter will address those claims and will give recommendations to maximize absorption of supplements in any form.

Claim 1: “Liquids are absorbed up to 98%, while tablets are absorbed only 10-20%.”
Logically, this seems to make sense--liquids don’t need to be broken down by stomach acid. However, repeated inquiries of scientific search engines using multiple keywords reveals no studies to support this claim. There have been many studies on the absorption of vitamins and minerals under conditions of health and disease, and the form of the supplement does not seem to matter. Further, vitamins and minerals are absorbed in the intestines. Once tablets or gel caps have been broken down in the stomach, it doesn’t matter in what form the supplements began their journey.

At least two websites quote the Physicians Desk Reference® (PDR®) to support their claims for liquid supplements. Neither the PDR nor the PDR for Nutritional Supplements contain any mention of absorption of vitamins and minerals on the mentioned page or within several pages before or after. This may be the result of one website borrowing material from another and embellishing the claims. Regardless, the science to support such claims should have appeared in the literature search and it did not.

Claim 2: “Thousands of pounds of undigested vitamin and mineral tablets are pulled out of water treatment filters every month.”
This implies that the tablets are not broken down in the digestive system and simply pass through the body unchanged. Contacting several municipal water treatment and sewage plants yielded no confirmation of these statements. And in this age of competing news magazines and multiple 24-hour news channels, wouldn’t such an arresting visual have made it to print or to air by now?

Simply put, there is nothing to support the claim that liquid vitamins and minerals are better absorbed. But let’s take it a step further.

Foods are solids with varying degrees of moisture. That means that solid foods would also be useless in providing nutrients. Vitamin E from almonds, beta-carotene from carrots, zinc from beef, or iron from Navy beans would all be useless if the liquid vitamin and mineral logic were true. That’s simply not the case.

What can you do to increase absorption of nutrients from the supplements that you take?
First, take your supplements consistently. If you want the benefits, you have to provide them to the body on a regular basis.

Second, take your supplements after you eat. There are substances in food that help with the absorption of nutrients. Front-loading the food helps absorption of nutrients. For example, fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins E and D are better absorbed after eating foods that contain lipids.

Finally, if you’re taking a fiber supplement, it’s better to take the supplements several hours after taking the fiber. Fiber can bind to some minerals, decreasing the absorption of those minerals.

Nutrition is complicated--there’s no question about that. Unsubstantiated claims only make things worse. The key is not the form of your supplement--it’s that you take the supplements your body needs.

References:
  1. Physicians Desk Reference. Medical Economics. 1997.
  2. Heldon, S, and Rorvik, D. PDR for Nutritional Supplements, 1st Edition. Thomson Healthcare. March 2001.
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