Optimal vitamin absorption requires ideal conditions. You can maximize vitamin absorption by pairing nutrients, maintaining ideal gut health, supplementing in proper doses, and being aware of the circumstances that cause malabsorption.
Combine nutrients that help each other absorb
Some nutrients depend on the presence of others for absorption. The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are best absorbed when consumed with a small amount of healthy fat, like olive oil.
Iron comes in two forms; heme form and non-heme. Animal foods contain both types while plants and fortified foods contain only non-heme, which requires Vitamin C for absorption. Eating Vitamin C-rich foods or supplementing with Vitamin C before eating plant-based iron foods can enhance iron absorption.
Vitamin D is almost always included in bone health calcium supplements because Vitamin D helps to assimilate calcium into the bones.
Maintain proper gut health for better vitamin absorption
Did you know that you don’t actually get all your B vitamins from food and supplements? That seems crazy since the definition of a vitamin is a nutrient that your body can’t produce. And that’s true of the B vitamins. Your body cannot produce them; some of the bacteria living in your gut can (with the exception of B12). While you still need to consume these vitamins from food, a diverse gut flora contributes B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, and B9 to your overall levels.
The villi projections in your intestines extract vitamins and minerals from foods. Poor gut health and consuming foods that cause allergic reactions blunt these villi and prevent them from extracting nutrients, leading to malabsorption.
Stomach acid is a requirement for extraction of B12 from protein sources and supports Vitamin C secretion. Lower stomach acid levels can lead to lower levels of these nutrients, whether the diminishing stomach acid is due to proton pump inhibitors, bariatric surgery, or just aging. Taking a liposomal B12 or Vitamin C supplement can help to maximize vitamin absorption when stomach acid is low since this type of supplement bypasses the normal absorption systems and delivers nutrients into the bloodstream and the cells.
Take supplements in doses you can absorb
Your body excretes any excess water-soluble vitamins and minerals, so there is no point in taking monster doses of these nutrients and it can cause some digestive discomfort. Researchers have confirmed that higher the dose, the less Vitamins C and B12 are absorbed from traditional supplements, indicating there is an upper limit to what your body can absorb at a single time.
Water-soluble nutrients benefit from real liposomal encapsulation technology, which enhances absorption by providing vehicles to transport the vitamins and minerals from the digestive system into the bloodstream and the cells. Lypo-Spheric® Vitamin C, the original liposomal Vitamin C supplement, has been shown to absorb 50% better in white blood cells than Vitamin C powder.
You can store fat-soluble vitamins (like A, D, E, and K), and excessive amounts can be toxic. Again, higher doses are not necessarily better.
Eat mindfully to activate enzymes
According to integrative medicine doctors, the act of chewing is essential to nutrient absorption. Mastication activates enzymes and researchers have found that more chewing led to more healthy fat absorption from almonds.
If you’re not feeling great after you eat, your meal could be causing inflammation which interferes with nutrient absorption in the small intestine. While many people are sensitive to lactose (the sugar in dairy), other common culprits are grains, sugars, and certain oils. Less common, though still known to cause inflammation in a significant number of people, are legumes, eggs, nuts, seed, and nightshades.
Be cognizant of the conditions and circumstances that interfere with vitamin absorption
While coffee has many valuable benefits (it contains antioxidants after all), some researchers make a compelling case for drinking your morning cup after breakfast. Caffeine can interfere with vitamin D absorption, and the higher the dose the more interference. Since Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption, it makes sense that researchers also noted that caffeine interferes with calcium assimilation as well.
Many drugs, including common over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals, interfere with nutrient absorption. Certain medications are meant to be taken with food; since some of these bind with vitamins and minerals, some pharmacists and doctors recommend supplementing to avoid deficiency. Hospitals, like Mount Sinai, recommend supplementing at different times of day than when taking the medication to avoid the supplement interfering with the efficacy of the drug.
When you’re stressed, your body goes into survival mode. It shuts down what it deems non-essential processes. While you may argue digestion is an essential business — er, process — your adrenal overlords disagree. Unfortunately, in our modern life, a rabid bear did not interrupt your dinner, sending you into flight for your life. You may just be trying to shovel down a sandwich at your desk while you hastily reply to emails between conference calls.
Stress-induced digestion interference causes your body to produce less digestive enzyme and the hydrochloric acid that breaks down your food to get to a point where vitamins and minerals can be extracted and absorbed. The lack of these gastric secretions can cause undigested food to enter your intestines. Your body will either try to rid itself of this food (diarrhea) or hang onto it (constipation).
Intestinal villi, the projections that line the inner surface of your small intestine, extract nutrients from food as an important step for absorption. Celiac disease causes your immune system to attack the villi when you consume gluten. This causes villous atrophy, which prevents absorption of iron, magnesium, and the B vitamins.
These compounds in plants can be beneficial, but they also interfere with absorption of zinc and iron. This is not a big deal, except for vegans and others adhering to a plant-based diet who get all their zinc and iron from plant foods. Phytates only interfere with mineral absorption when they are consumed concurrently. Their effects do not linger throughout the day. Functional medicine doctor Will Cole recommends soaking beans and legumes for at least eight hours prior to consumption to minimize phytate content.
Gastric bypass surgery alters the stomach and digestive system to cause nutrient malabsorption. Changes include diminishing stomach acid that is required for extraction of B12 from foods, and diverting digestion to avoid the parts of the intestines where Vitamin D is absorbed. Bariatric surgery also interferes with the absorption of folate, calcium, zinc, and iron.