How Does The Body Absorb Nutrients?

Getting the most out of your health supplements

When buying health supplements, you will hear a lot of talk about how bioavailability, the rate of absorption of a particular supplement, and also what process or engineering has been applied to the nutrients in the supplements to increase their bioavailability. It's not enough to simply pump the body full of healthy food and supplements; if you want to ensure that what you're putting in is fulfilling its potential and going where it needs to go, it's worth taking a look at how these nutrients are absorbed and what you can do, or not do, to aid the process.

Some of nature's most potent ingredients need a particular enzyme or fat to assist the body in absorbing their goodness. Turmeric and CBD, for example, are most often sold as oil based supplements, but this is not the most effective way to guarantee absorption in the body and as much as 90% of oil based supplements are proven to end up wasted by the body.

In this article, we're going to break down the basics about absorption. We'll start with a look at water: where it goes in the body and what it does, and how it's absorbed. We'll then take a look at nutrient absorption, to better understand how we can support the body to get the most out of the food and supplements we put in.

The Importance of Water

We've all familiar with the fact that the body is made up of 70% water, and how imperative it is that we drink enough on a daily basis. But where is the water located in our bodies, where does the water we drink go, and what are its main functions?

While the food we eat is digested, the water we drink is absorbed by the body and distributed by the bloodstream for various functions around the system.

Up to two thirds of the water we drink is stored in our cells, as billions of the cells in our bodies need water in order to function. The other third of the water in our bodies is stored in the blood, where it aids with multiple bodily functions. Water acts as a lubricant to assist the organs in their work, it facilitates the body's removal of waste, and enables the body to absorb nutrients. Here are some of the other vital functions for which water is essential:

  • Helps lubricate cartilage, cushioning the joints
  • Kickstarts the kidneys to help filter toxins
  • Maintains healthy brain function
  • Metabolises and transports carbohydrates and proteins in the bloodstream

Are you absorbing your nutrients effectively?

You're no doubt here, reading this article, because you're intent on keeping your body in good health, and curious to better understand how you can do that. Eating healthily and supporting your diet with extra vitamins and supplements is unfortunately not enough to guarantee your body is getting what it needs: it's important to also understand how the body absorbs nutrients, as much of what we put in can go to waste if it's not adequately supported.

There are certain dietary and circumstantial factors that might mean you're not absorbing as much of the nutritional content of your food or supplements as you could be. Here are a few to consider:

  • Stress: we're all aware that stress can run havoc on varying aspects of our health. When we're stressed, many of us experience digestive complaints (such as heartburn, indigestion, or IBS symptoms), and these are consequences of the body going into 'fight-or-flight' mode when under high stress. Just as this nervous system response affects the digestive process, it has detrimental effects on how efficiently the body absorbs nutrients.
  • Alcohol: drinking alcohol causes damage to the lining of the stomach and the small intestines, which reduces the absorption of vitamins and minerals from our food into the body. What's more, alcohol has also been found to cause a decline in the secretion of enzymes necessary to break down nutrients in order for them to be absorbed.
  • Caffeine: It is advised to wait at least an hour between having coffee or tea and meals or supplements. This is because caffeine can radically affect the absorption of certain nutrients, meaning if you have your health supplements in the morning and soon after (or before) have a coffee, much of the nutritional content will go to waste. This is partly due to caffeine being highly diuretic. Iron is one of the nutrients mainly impacted by caffeine intake, decreasing its absorption by up to 80%. It is suggested, however, that having milk in your tea or coffee can soften this effect on absorption, but you may want to consider either cutting down on your daily caffeine hits or being more mindful of when you have your cuppa.

How Are Nutrients Absorbed?

Nutrients can be split into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients – including carbs, proteins and fats – are immediate sources of readily available energy, whereas micronutrients are more subtle players, and serve as catalysts to assist the release of the macronutrients. Unless they're properly absorbed, neither type of nutrient can adequately do their work.

The digestive process begins as enzymes in the saliva break down the food, with different enzymes working on different nutrients; protease works to break down protein, lipase breaks down fats, and amylase works on carbs; fats and protein taking longer to break down than carbohydrates.

Once the food has been digested and the nutrients (including carbohydrates, fats, water, plus other vitamins and minerals) are ready to be absorbed, there are two main ways in which they will be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine to enter the bloodstream: passive diffusion and active transport absorption. Passive diffusion is a process which allows the nutrients to be easily absorbed from the densely concentrated intestine into the bloodstream. With active transport absorption, on the other hand, the nutrients need a helping hand to get through to the bloodstream, meaning a carrier molecule is needed to assist the process. Most vitamins are absorbed via passive diffusion, whereas minerals mostly by active transport absorption.

What Does Water Soluble Mean?

As mentioned, many nutrients need a helping agent in order to be properly absorbed into the bloodstream. Curcumin and CBD are not naturally adept to assimilate into the bloodstream; as the body is mostly water, and these are two nutrients which require fat to be broken down effectively. This is why traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric was served in a spiced 'golden milk': the fat content of the milk, along with the piperine contained in black pepper is conducive to better absorption.

Simply adding fat (commonly an oil) to your intake of these supplements is not always enough, and this is why much of the nutritional content often goes straight through the body and to waste. This is where Water Technology comes in. In order to make the nutrients more bioavailable, this pioneering technology alters the structure of the compounds just enough to make them water soluble. And, as water is the body's main liquid, which so easily and readily moves through and around the system, this means the nutrients can more effectively be absorbed.

Whether you're on a mission to get healthier, revive that spring in your step, or simply keep an eye on your overall wellbeing, you have no doubt looked into and tried some health supplements along the way. It's important to be aware of how readily available the nutrients are for absorption, based on what form they come in, and also to be mindful of how well you are assisting nutrient absorption with your eating, water intake, and your lifestyle. Opting for supplements which have a high level of bioavailability means that you are guaranteed that the maximum potential of the nutrients will be able to be absorbed by your system.

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