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The Lowdown on Supplements

Some supplements simply don't work: but why?

It’s probably a shock to absolutely no one that we’ve seen a huge increase in the prevalence of supplements in recent years. The market is incredibly saturated; the result of increased demand from the general public who are now, more than ever, focusing on their health. 

When searching for supplements, you’ll come across a wide variety of claims, ingredients, and formulas that are suggested to enhance your quality of life and protect against a multitude of issues.

But with so many supplements available, how can you be sure that what you’re buying is the real deal? Do the ingredients in these supplements actually achieve the result they are claiming to achieve? It’s hard to tell, especially when some supplements (even effective ones) don’t provide instant, or even tangible results. 

Let’s break it down as simply as we can. We want to talk about some common types of supplements on the market, what they are advertised to achieve, and most importantly, what makes them actually effective. 

Multivitamins

We’ve all tried them at some point or another. Millennials probably got introduced to them via chalky chewables in the shape of Fred Flinstone, while many others have at the very least had a gummy vitamin at some point. Multivitamins are the most common type of supplement used by people around the world, mainly due to their “all-in-one” marketing. 

Whether they’re capsules, tablets, gummies, or powder, they essentially claim the same thing: a complete spectrum of vitamins in minerals to supplement your diet on a daily basis, in an easy-to-consume dose.

However, consistent controversy remains around the true ability of multivitamins to provide meaningful health benefits. 

While some studies have shown that daily multivitamin intake was associated with a lower number of heart problems, cancer, and rates of death, others have reported no effect at all. While not everyone who takes a multivitamin is seeking specific, life-altering results, it’s still not super great to hear as a consumer. Especially if you’re shelling out your precious cash for your entire family, every day. 

As you can imagine, something with “multi” in the description implies a sort of one-size-fits-all approach. While simplicity is often helpful, when it comes to vitamins and their bioavailability, not so much. To get both the most out of your vitamins and your money, any old generic pill off the supermarket shelf won’t always do. 

Regardless, multivitamins can be a surefire way to get your recommended daily intake of nutrients. Do your research – check it’s ingredient list, mentions of bioavailability and daily value percentages to start. If you’re looking for a small way to implement wellness into your day, picking up a multivitamin is a great place to start. 

Probiotics

Probiotic is a term used to describe a variety of microorganisms that, when consumed in large enough amounts, provide health benefits. These microorganisms are mostly different strains of bacteria, but can also include various types of yeasts as well. The main function of probiotics is nourishing the gut lining with healthy types of bacteria. 

Luckily, you can take in plenty of live, probiotic bacteria through food and drink like kombucha, yogurt, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, or miso soup, to name a few yummy options.

yellow background with various types of capsules and pills It may not be fun to think about, but your gut is highly composed of many different types of bacteria, both good and bad. However, an imbalance in the gut microbiome (a fancy term used to describe the bacterial environment in the gut) is thought to be the root of varying health issues, from inflammatory bowel disease to depression. More often than not, probiotics have become a hot topic in the treatment of “gut health.” 

Probiotics have definitely made a big impact in the industry. However, as a consumer, it’s important to be aware that not all bacterial strains listed in probiotic supplements have been laboratory-tested, and are only backed by anecdotal evidence. Some examples of these bacterial strains are Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium animalis, and Bifidobacterium longum; all commonly used in commercial products. 

That’s not to say they’re not safe and effective, but something to be aware of. Luckily, there is enough evidence to back most of the claims regarding these bacterial strains, so you can find out what works best for you. 

Nootropics 

The term nootropic comes from a Romanian scientist, derived from combining the two Greek words for “mind” and “bending.” Also called “smart drugs,” nootropics provide some kind of cognitive or mental enhancement. While the term seems a bit daunting, you’ve most likely consumed a nootropic at some point in your life!

Natural nootropics like caffeine and herbal ginseng are energy boosters and are thought to improve general attentiveness and focus. Mushrooms and mycelium have also become quite popular in the world of nootropics in the form of teas, capsules and powders. 

Then there’s the common synthetic nootropics you’ve probably heard of, Ritalin and Adderall, commonly used to increase focus and attentiveness in people with conditions like ADHD. 

Nootropics are said to enhance neurotransmitter transmission in the brain, particularly in the dopamine and serotonin systems. But other neurotransmitters like glutamate have been considered to play a role in the effects of these cognitive compounds as well.

These mind-bending supplements have gained massive popularity recently, with members of Silicon Valley even looking to nootropics to “get ahead” of their competition

Antioxidants

You’ve most likely heard of antioxidants, and how you should get your fill with foods like blueberries and dark chocolate. But what do they really do? They’re a bit elusive, but incredibly important for a healthy body.

So why do you need antioxidants? As you go about your everyday life, you’re generating energy and releasing something called reactive oxygen species, also known as ROS (a type of free radical).

Free radicals can be damaging to all types of cells, so organelles within a cell are equipped with the necessary tools (i.e., antioxidant compounds) to protect and remove free radicals from the cellular environment. 

So, long story short, antioxidant (molecules that protect you from cell damage) supplies are vital for cellular health and managing ROS levels. 

You can easily increase your body’s access to antioxidants by eating foods that are high in antioxidant levels as mentioned previously, but it’s not always enough; especially as you get older. For example, you’d have to eat more than 1.5 lbs of asparagus and 15 lbs of broccoli to get the same amount of Glutathione and CoQ10, respectively, as a single dose of the right antioxidant supplement. 

Research surrounding antioxidant supplements can be confusing and somewhat controversial. An important aspect of any supplement, but especially antioxidants, is correct dosage and how it’s effectively absorbed into the body. Because without that, many supplements can lead to buildup and while rare, undesirable side effects. That leads us to a very important discussion next: bioavailability and absorption. 

Bioavailability 

Bioavailability is just what it sounds like – how much of the ingredient in question is able to be absorbed into the body. It’s very important when considering supplementation and there are several factors to take into account that will improve the delivery of a nutrient, including the formulation of the nutrient itself, but also gut health (i.e., microbiome), diet, nutritional status, metabolism and stomach pH.

In essence, bioavailability is the amount of nutrient that is biologically available in the bloodstream after passing through various metabolic events in the body. 

For example, a swallowed capsule is metabolized by digestive enzymes found in the mouth, stomach, and gut, and is then further broken down by the liver. Of course, this all depends on where the nutrient is typically absorbed along the gastrointestinal tract, and how long it is subjected to any potentially damaging stomach acids, for example. 

Think about what happens when you receive a treatment intravenously –  a drug given by an intravenous needle is considered to have 100% bioavailability because 100% of the drug is directly injected into circulating blood. It’s put right where it needs to be. 

Tying back into supplements, minerals are typically broken down by the body into charged ions, which can be absorbed easily by tissues without reaching its intended destination. 

Fortunately, scientists have come up with a way to enhance bioavailability of supplements; providing liposomal protection to the product. 

Liposomal Protection

This is where things get a little more complicated, but a whole lot more important. Liposomal protection is, put simply, a process used to protect ingredients from breaking down by essentially surrounding them with a bubble or membrane. Scientifically, liposomes are spherical vesicle-like structures made up of lipid bilayer (a.k.a. a fat or oil). 

They play a vital role in the process–ensuring that the vitamins and nutrients you’re consuming aren’t destroyed by your stomach acids and upper digestive system. To protect substances like Vitamin C or glutathione, they’re often encapsulated in a synthetic liposome, similar to the ones naturally occurring in our cells. 

Because cell membranes in the body are made up of similar lipid bilayers, this allows compounds that also have lipid bilayers to slip right through them. This can dramatically increase the amount of nutrient that reaches the bloodstream, which is great news!

Studies have found that liposomal protection significantly increased the body’s ability to absorb key nutrients, and also increased the amount of the nutrient delivered to the bloodstream as well. 

In another study, scientists found that encapsulating glutathione (GSH; an antioxidant) in liposomes significantly elevated GSH levels and reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. 

While it’s not a simple process in the real world, it’s very possible! It just requires some advanced science, and a more intensive, time consuming and costly manufacturing process. 

Wellness is Self Care

Whether you’re taking the first step and taking your first-ever gummy multivitamin, or looking to more advanced and specific supplements for your personal needs, it’s always a step in the right direction. As with any medical or nutritional routine, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider to see what is the best option for you. 

Please note that this article does not replace medical treatment and should not be regarded as medical advice. 

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