This article covers a very complex topic in a very broad sense. You should walk away from it with a bit more of an idea of what impacts the foods, nutrients and supplements you take and how effective they are. It might even raise some awareness and ideas that will in fact improve your supplement regime and get more out of what you’re putting in.
Form of Supplement
The type of a particular supplement should be considered when it comes to how well it may be digested, how fast and how effective it may be. Many supplements come in organic and inorganic forms. Some are digested well, others are not. Magnesium oxide, for example, is an inorganic form of magnesium that is well known for helping with constipation. Whereas Magnesium glycinate is digested far better since glycine is actively transported through the intestine wall and is commonly used for chronic pain. Various forms of supplements are also much better used for specific symptoms. Magnesium Orotate for example, is used for heart health.
Health of Gut
Gut health is something to be of concern when considering the efficacy of a supplement. A poor functioning gut may inhibit how well nutrients are absorbed into the body. This can be due to three main reasons. One, the microbiome, the bacterial cultures found within the body living symbiotically produce enzymes and short chain fatty acids which help with mineral absorption. Two, overall diet impact. A vegan diet, for example, high in phytates can not only reduce the microbiome mentioned above, but can also interact with epithelial cells and mucous producing immune cells reducing efficacy of absorption. Leading to number reason three, underlying autoimmune disease. As I’ve mentioned before in my article about Coeliac Disease, nutrient absorption through the duodenum is suppressed and symptoms of leaky gut, causing inflammation and supressed villi function and population. This isn’t limited to Coeliac. Most autoimmune conditions that relate to the gut will more than likely have impact on this.
These three factors really seem like the chicken and egg metaphor. All three factors can influence one another and can be somewhat cyclical. Dietary intervention (and in a Vegans case, correct preparation of foods to minimise impact of things like high phytic acid) with probiotic and prebiotic support can help to bring these back good balance. This is a particular concern for people who have been diagnosed with autoimmune issues.
Outer Cell wall Membrane
Every cell in your body is exposed to many chemicals throughout their somewhat short lives. This would range anywhere from nutrients in food, chemicals used in food production, what we breath and what we come into contact via the skin. Our cells are exposed to a lot. Changes in pH, electrolyte balance and free radicals can affect outer cell wall membranes changing homeostasis. This changes how effectively transport proteins function in the membrane. Dietary changes to reduce oxidants and free radicals can be made to reduce these issues. Simple things like increasing green vegetable content in the diet to improve mitochondrial function. Supplements that improve electrolyte balance and antioxidants work brilliantly for this.
This refers to consistency in use of a product. Of course when we are talking about a pre workout or protein, most people have no issue with consistency. Unfortunately, consistency with supplements more focused towards health or less obvious benefits that don’t smack you in the face and leave you feeling wired - like the ones mentioned above – don’t usually get the same amount of focus and diligence given to them. This leaves people feeling like they have wasted their money on something that “doesn’t work” when in fact, if the instructions were followed, they would see the product working. E.g. taking the right Glucosamine dosage every day for at least 28 days to see proper benefit.
Interference from other supplements, drugs and hormones
Similar to how homeostatic imbalance is caused by changes in pH, electrolyte balance and free radicals. Other supplements, drugs and even hormones can affect how a supplement will interact with the body. Simple things such as zinc and calcium, for example, competing for common absorption sites (correct balance of the supplements actually causes no issues) prevents supplements from working correctly. Ensuring that you ask as many questions as you can when shopping for supplements and being honest with what medications and supplements you may already be using will give you a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t. General rule of thumb is to keep supplements two hours away from medications but what works best is asking your doc and practitioner for advice on how to get the most out of what you’re putting in.
So to summarise, we can get the most out of our supplements by ensuring that we consider what we are using the supplement for, and the quality of the ingredients used in said product. Overall lifestyle factors and dietary habits, mitochondrial function, intestinal permeability etc. have impact. We must ensure that digestion is spot on. This includes proper hydration and a balance of nutrients from food (and additional nutrients from supplements) to ensure proper cell function and permeability. Finally making sure that the supplement and its dose is appropriate to you and what you are doing. If you’re a 120kg power lifter that’s training six days a week, you will need higher dose of most things compared to say a 55kg woman in her 60’s that goes for a half hour walk every afternoon (and I know you guys love you’re food so that’s more than likely already covered). The main take away from all this is: Be smart with what you’re doing. Just like with training, more doesn’t always mean better. Start with the minimum effective therapeutic dose and work from there.