Nutrient supplements come in many different forms. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll only be speaking on vitamin and mineral supplements. Muscle strength based “stacks” as they are commonly referred to are a different topic, and one I am not as well versed on and I won’t try to sway you one way or another on that particular subject.
When discussing vitamin and mineral supplements (hereafter referred to as VMS), there are a multitude of factors to keep in mind. Firstly we must understand how these VMS are manufactured and the form in which they are presented. Next we must understand how VMS are broken down in the body and are dissolved; and finally we must understand how the delivery forms interact with our bodies and what happens when we deliver massive doses of VMS to the body in a relatively short period.
In the USA, there is no formal FDA requirement for VMS other than truth in labeling. Even in labeling, there are certain “fudge factors” that the government allows for manufacturing variances and shelf life degradation. Many VMS are manufactured using processes and techniques that can leave the vitamins and minerals unable to be used by the body, or a portion thereof. Generally, the cheaper the VMS, the lower the quality control of the manufacturing process. This does not take into effect the inert substances used to bind the VMS particulates together and the various substances used to help the products with delivery into the system, namely things like bile salts and/or amino acids that can help deliver vitamins and minerals to their proper places in the body. Lastly it should be noted that better quality products also often rely on a “coating” to keep them from dissolving in the stomach acid before they can reach the small intestine where they are designed to be absorbed.
VMS that are taken orally in pill form are designed to pass through the stomach and be dissolved in the intestines. Many multivitamin and multimineral supplements have components that are susceptible to the acids in the stomach. Without some kind of coating, much of the desired effect of this type of VMS will be blunted or completely destroyed before being of any benefit to the person taking them. Many of the more expensive and better MVS offer a coating that will protect the pill from stomach acids, and are stripped of when they enter the duodenum, allowing the nutrients to be absorbed as they enter the small intestine. Another concept to understand is that vitamins and minerals can talk multiple molecular forms, some of which are less bioavailable or completely unavailable to the human body. So while the label may say 100% of a specific vitamin, the usable amount may be far less.
Lastly we must remember that the body has evolved to digest and break down foods over relatively long periods of times (hours generally), which means that the vitamins and minerals in food are released gradually to the body, allowing the body to use these in a more controlled manner. For many vitamins and minerals, there is either no storage mechanism in the body, or the process to store the supplement is slow to account for the gradual uptake. When we deliver massive volumes of a micro-nutrient to the body, we risk toxification in the body which in very high doses can have negative effects, or elimination which means that much of the nutrient can be neither used nor stored, and is thus eliminated as a waste product.
In conclusion, my main point is to use caution when supplementing your nutritional intake. As a general rule (one I myself follow) I usually say, supplement as little as possible, and through the best, most credible providers you can afford. Remember that there’s really very little regulation in the supplement industry, and manufacturers can make some pretty outrageous claims with little or no backlash.