Supplements are often taken for specific health and functional benefits or to fill nutrient gaps in a diet. Consumers can choose from a variety of supplements in the form of capsules, effervescent tablets, powders, gummies, chews, and even functional beverages. Supplements typically contain vitamins and minerals that are considered essential micronutrients for our bodies to thrive.

Taking a multivitamin, multimineral, or immune-boosting supplement offers a convenient way to help you meet your daily nutrient needs. However, keep in mind that supplements are not meant to replace, but to support a healthy lifestyle.

How are supplements absorbed?

Your body absorbs orally ingested supplements in the exact same way it does nutrients from the food you eat and drink, primarily through the small intestine, aka the headquarters of absorption.

Once food is chewed and swallowed, it travels to the stomach, where acid (gastric juices) and enzymes break it down into carbohydrates, fats, and protein. The digestive system then goes to work by extracting vitamins and minerals from the digested food, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream where different cells take what they need.

Nutrient absorption is accomplished via villi – the microscopic, brush-like lining of the small intestine that acts like a comb that grabs important nutrients out of the digested food that leaves your stomach. Hundreds of thousands of villi line your gut.

Water is also key to absorption. The small intestine uses a process called diffusion to extract nutrients. Diffusion moves water and water-soluble compounds like glucose, amino acids, water-soluble vitamins, and minerals across the villi. Once diffused into the villi, these nutrients are absorbed straight into the bloodstream.

Fats and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K enter the bloodstream in a slightly different way. Bile acids from the liver mix with fats in the small intestine, which helps to break down fats into fatty acids. Then, the fatty acids and other fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed by the villi into lacteals, which are lymphatic vessels that transport fat-soluble compounds to the liver where they are stored and released in the body as needed.

How to maintain healthy absorption

  • Use a daily probiotic to create a diverse gut microbiome. When there’s a healthy number of good bacteria in your gut, it supports digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Choose healthy fat over saturated or trans-fat. Fat-soluble vitamins rely on fat to move from the small intestine to the rest of the body. Consuming healthy fats from plant sources will help absorption of these nutrients.
  • Time exercise right. Regular exercise improves intestinal motility, but doing intense exercise shortly after a meal can divert blood and nutrients to working muscles, instead of staying focused on digesting and absorbing food properly. Going for a leisurely walk after a meal is beneficial, but leave moderate to intense exercise for a few hours after eating, especially after a heavy meal.
  • Hydrate with water. Drinking water throughout the day helps food to flow more easily through your digestive system.
  • Cut out alcohol and smoking. Both alcohol and smoking increase stomach acid, which can lead to heartburn and ulcers, hampering proper digestion.
  • Eat a wide range of healthy food. The greater the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables you eat daily, along with a decent dose of fiber, also ensures a healthy digestive tract.

Certain health conditions or dietary restrictions may limit your ability to get all the vitamins or minerals that your body needs from food. In this instance, supplements can play an important role.

If you experience frequent fatigue, muscle weakness, unsteady movements, forgetfulness, shortness of breath, or dizziness, you may be suffering from a nutrient deficiency. The best is to speak to your healthcare provider who will be able to recommend the right supplement for you.


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