8 Ways to Increase Your Body's Vitamin and Mineral Absorption

Article at a Glance

  • Take fat-soluble vitamins with oils or fats.
  • Add “thermonutrients” to your regimen to boost nutrient absorption.
  • Consider replacing tablet, capsule, and powder supplements with microgels.
  • Know which vitamins and minerals to pair, and which to split.
  • Store your food and vitamins properly, and check the expiration date.
  • Understand the effects of your prescription medications.
  • Consider prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.

Over 220 million Americans take supplements every day despite scientific evidence that they are poorly absorbed. To help fill the micronutrient gaps in your diet, you can try these eight pro tips from Dr. Vincent Giampapa, MD, and Elizabeth Candela, RDN, to boost vitamin and mineral absorption from the supplements you’re taking and the foods in your diet.

8 Ways to Increase Your Body's Vitamin and Mineral Absorption

1.    Take Fat-Soluble Vitamins with Oils or Fats

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins that are stored in our body’s tissues. These vitamins are critical because they support many healthy functions in the body and may even prevent certain diseases. [1]   You should take these essential micronutrients with fats or oils so they can be solubilized (dissolved) for absorption.

Nutrients that cannot be dissolved are less likely to be absorbed, so you have to consume them with a solution that can dissolve them. To maximize nutrient absorption, consume your fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) with fats or oils that can help with absorption. For example, when taking your multivitamin in the morning, consume it with a nut butter, such as almond butter, cashew butter or peanut butter. If you have eggs in the morning - cook them in olive, coconut or avocado oil. You can also add avocado to your whole grain toast or as a side fruit. If you are taking your multivitamin at lunch or dinner, add some avocado slices or add a handful of nuts or seeds to your sandwich or salad, or add olive or avocado oil to roasted vegetables.

Most supplements containing fat-soluble vitamins come in dehydrated, compacted tablets, pills, or powders, which do not readily dissolve for efficient vitamin and mineral absorption. If instead, you decide to take a single fat-soluble vitamin, take a gel cap which packages the vitamin in oil for best absorption. For example, take a vitamin D provided in a gel cap that contains vitamin D already dissolved in sunflower oil.

Unfortunately, most gel caps don’t provide a broad spectrum of essential nutrients (fat- and water-soluble vitamins). For a more comprehensive blend of nutrients, like a multivitamin, you can try a new increasingly popular alternative — the microgel. An example is Bioactive Multi by Healthycell, which includes a broad spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals, plus phytonutrients and botanical antioxidants from premium ingredient sources in highly bioavailable forms. The fat-soluble vitamins are pre-dissolved in natural oils, and the water-soluble vitamins are pre-dissolved in water. Both types of vitamins are infused into a microgel that delivers high vitamin and mineral absorption.  As a bonus, the microgel is made of prebiotics for an added healthy gut boost.

2. Spice It Up!

When you eat spicy foods like pepper, the “hot” sensation you get is actually a biological activity that enhances nutrient absorption. The active compounds that cause this sensation are called thermonutrients– compounds that create heat when ingested, boost metabolism, and improve vitamin and mineral absorption. [2]    

The heat that thermonutrients generate in the body creates more demand for various nutrients needed to support faster metabolism, which causes the body to boost nutrient transportation through the GI tract in response.

In the case of pepper, the active thermonutrient compound is called piperine. Some supplements contain piperine (usually in the form of BioPerine®). But you can add your own thermonutrients to your vitamin regimen or diet by taking a small amount of hot pepper sauce or ground pepper immediately before you take your vitamins. You can also look for piperine included in supplements, as in Healthycell Pro.

3. Ditch the Pills

Tablets and capsules often contain relatively large, dense, poorly-soluble, and difficult-to-absorb particles (more than 10 times too big for absorption). Picture small grains of sand, which are about the same size as many vitamin particles found inside vitamin tablets.

According to nutrition and bioavailability expert Dr. Mark Neveu, micronutrients need to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and then into cells, to have a positive impact. The current size of most nutrient particles and tablets and capsules make it impossible for them to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

A new microgel absorption technology called BIOACTIVE GEL™ is creating a new standard for nutritional supplements and replacing tablets, capsules, and powders. Formulated by world-leading nutritional scientists, this unique microgel technology allows for maximum absorption of ingredients into the body by releasing extremely small, ultra-bioavailable nutrient particles at specific locations in the digestive tract. You can try Bioactive Multi by Healthycell to experience this new, pill-free, more effective way of taking vitamins.

4. Take the Right Nutrients Together and Keep Others Separate

You’ve likely heard the words “synergies” and “contraindications” but let’s make these terms easier to understand as they relate to vitamin and mineral absorption.

Synergy means two or more ingredients that should be taken together because they work together to improve the absorption of each other.

Contraindication means two or more nutrients that should not be taken together. Instead, they need to be taken separately for maximum absorption because they prevent the absorption of each other.

Micronutrients that should be taken together

Vitamin K, vitamin D, and calcium should be taken together because this combination helps your body absorb calcium into your bones. Vitamin K2 is a type of vitamin K known as menaquinone that is especially helpful in directing calcium away from the bloodstream and blood vessels (where it can cause dangerous arterial calcification and cardiovascular issues) and into your bones. Because of this effect, vitamin K2 has added circulatory and heart health benefits.[3]

Vitamin C and iron should also be taken together for two reasons:

(1) Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.[4]

(2) Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the side effects of nausea and constipation for people who are sensitive to iron.

Vitamin B6, vitamin B12and folate are B vitamins that work together to lower an amino acid called homocysteine. A reduction in homocysteine correlates to lower incidences of heart disease and stroke.[5]

Potassium, magnesium, and calcium all help to support your nervous system function. They also support a healthy electrolyte balance in your body, which is related to hydration. Lastly, evidence points to this combination potentially reducing blood pressure and risk of stroke.[6]

Vitamin C and vitamin E as a combination is more effective than either vitamin alone. The combination acts as a protective antioxidant force that helps buffer cells from free-radical damage. There is also evidence that this combination may help reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease.[7]

Vitamin A and vitamin E work synergistically as an antioxidant powerhouse. Plus, vitamin A helps vitamin E to be absorbed in your small intestine.

Vitamin A and iodine work well together because a metabolite of vitamin A called retinoic acid helps your body to absorb iodine, which is needed for thyroid health.

Iron, zinc, and vitamin A also work well together. Zinc is required to transport vitamin A around the body, and iron is needed to convert beta-carotene into a form of vitamin A your body can use called retinol.

If you are going to take nutrients separately, you should strategically split them by learning which vitamins and minerals to take in the morning vs. evening.  The body actually has different needs in the morning and evening, so this is a good practice to optimize your diet and supplement regimen.

Micronutrients that should not be taken together

Zinc and copper should be taken separately because they block the absorption of each other by competing for the same receptors in your body.[8]

Calcium and iron should be taken separately because they also compete for the same receptors in your body, and therefore block the absorption of one another.[9]

5. Know How Your Medications May Affect Nutrient Absorption

If you’re taking prescription medications or over-the-counter medications, they could be interacting with the vitamins and minerals in your diet and in your supplements in many ways. They may reduce vitamin and mineral absorption, risking deficiency. Or they may increase absorption, risking toxicity.

There are too many potential interactions to list, so you should consult your physician about potential nutrient absorption issues with your medications, and especially about mixing medications with your supplements. Your physician should take care to read the Supplement Facts label of your supplements and crosscheck for potential interactions.

6. Supercharge Your Digestive System with Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Enzymes

The health of your GI tract determines, to a large degree, how many nutrients you absorb from your diet and your supplements. For this reason, you should keep it as healthy as possible with prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.

Prebiotics, including plant fibers, are food for your probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help you break down the food you ingest so you can absorb it easier in the small intestine. Enzymes also help you to break down the food you ingest.

Make sure you get enough of these three gut boosting ingredients. Older adults tend to have less efficient GI tracts so it may be even more important for these individuals to add these nutrients to their diets.

7. Watch the Expiration Date

Vitamin products are supposed to undergo stability testing, which analyzes the “freshness” or activity of vitamins over time. The activity of a micronutrient packed into a tablet, capsule, or mixed into a powder slowly degrades over time.

Most supplements have a stability period (the timeframe during which vitamins are active) of two years from the time they are made. The limit of this stability period is the expiration date stamped on the product.

Since the activity of nutrients inside supplement products degrades over time, the closer to the production date you can get a product, the more bioavailable it will be, and the more active nutrients you will absorb. If you take an older product, or even one slightly past its expiration, you’ll likely be just fine, but you will be getting less than the number of active nutrients for which you paid.

8. Store Supplements and Foods Properly

Storing vitamins and foods improperly can leave you with supplements that are full of inactive nutrients. Follow the instructions on the label for proper storage. For most vitamins, proper storage means keeping them away from light, moisture, and heat, with a recommended storage temperate of 15-30C (59-86F). The same goes for most foods.

According to the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vegetables lose 15 percent to 77 percent of their vitamin C content within one week of harvest, even when properly refrigerated. Since produce is not always correctly stored, the micronutrient loss is likely greater. To learn more about how our food supply is losing nutrient value, read the article: Why Micronutrients Are Needed for Your Health and How to Get Them (Even if Fruits and Vegetables Have Become Less Nutritious)


References 

[1] National Research Council. Diet and health: implications for reducing chronic disease risk. National Academies Press, 1989.
[2] Badmaev, Vladimir, Muhammed Majeed, and Lakshmi Prakash. "Piperine derived from black pepper increases the plasma levels of coenzyme Q10 following oral supplementation." The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 11.2 (2000): 109-113.
[3] Geleijnse, Johanna M., et al. "Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam Study." The Journal of Nutrition 134.11 (2004): 3100-3105.
[4] Lynch, Sean R., and James D. Cook. "Interaction of vitamin C and iron." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 355.1 (1980): 32-44.
[5] Homocysteine Studies Collaboration. "Homocysteine and risk of ischemic heart disease and stroke: a meta-analysis." Jama 288.16 (2002): 2015-2022.
[6] Iso, Hiroyasu, et al. "Prospective study of calcium, potassium, and magnesium intake and risk of stroke in women." Stroke 30.9 (1999): 1772-1779.
[7] Ascherio, Alberto, et al. "Relation of consumption of vitamin E, vitamin C, and carotenoids to risk for stroke among men in the United States." Annals of Internal Medicine 130.12 (1999): 963-970.
[8] Fischer, P. W., A. Giroux, and M. R. L'abbe. "The effect of dietary zinc on intestinal copper absorption." The American journal of clinical nutrition 34.9 (1981): 1670-1675.
[9] Hallberg, L., et al. "Calcium and iron absorption: mechanism of action and nutritional importance." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 46.5 (1992): 317-327.