So much debate surrounds supplements based on “absorption”. When people are trying to decide which supplement to use, most often they will search for the one with the best absorption. There is little if any debate occurring on what actually matters most, which is the “Utilization” factor.
The real importance of supplementation should be based on how will our bodies utilize that which is being absorbed. Most absorption studies are done or based on urinalysis. They start out with the ingested dosage, and subtract the amount of that substance found in urine testing. What goes in vs. what comes out. If 100mg of a substance was ingested, and only 10mg of that material is found in urine, they assume that the other 90mg of the substance was absorbed, which is misleading.
Let’s break that down to what was actually discovered. All that truly was revealed or found was that a portion of the substance ingested never left the body; however, this does not mean the body actually received any benefit from the substance. This just means that substance never left the body, or was not appropriately accounted for. The key to take away from this scenario, is that absorption does not equate to utilization within the body.
Let’s look at vitamin C for example. You will often hear of the synthetic form of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Now, Ascorbic acid, synthetically produced, is not Vitamin C as it is found in food. Real wholefood vitamin C is an antioxidant, which will serve the function of “sweeping” out free radicals within the blood. To discover this truth, we must determine whether or not synthetic vitamin C was actually utilized in the same fashion that wholefood vitamin C was used.
One such peer reviewed study that examined the utilization contrast between the two entirely different substances, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, concluded: “We found no in-vivo (within the body) antioxidant effect with a 1,000mg. dose of Vitamin C (as ascorbic acid) alone, but a significant effect with the combination of Vitamin C (wholefood) and a concentrated flavonoid containing Citrus Extract (Re-Natured® Vitamin C)1 Grown By Nature's Vitamin C.
So, regardless of what any absorption study for ascorbic acid may show, we can clearly see that no matter what percentage of the synthetic substance was absorbed, it is not being utilized in the same way a wholefood vitamin C complex would be. The function of Vitamin C in food is not matched or equated when supplemented with an incomplete isolated synthetic version of the vitamin.
The term “isolated” means that the synthetic replica of the wholefood complex vitamin/mineral is a fraction of the whole. Ascorbic acid is just a part of a larger whole. In wholefood vitamin C, ascorbic acid is present, but it is just a small fraction of the entirety of the vitamin C structure.
Yes, naturally occurring ascorbic acid, within its complex, is vitally important; but, as demonstrated in the science, it is not effective alone, or even properly “utilized.”
My wife likes to use the analogy, “I can drink a gallon of bleach and my body will absorb it. My body will absorb almost anything I ingest. That doesn't mean a thing without utilization.”
An analogy of this could be Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Now, Michael Jordan was great, mostly due to the fact that he had a great team that allowed his greatness to be “utilized”. He had Scottie Pippen that would pass him the ball. He had Dennis Rodman there to rebound the ball to pass to him. The key to his success was that he was part of a team. Now, let’s say you “isolated” Michael Jordan, away from his team, and put him on a court by himself, with no one to pass to, no one to rebound for him, how effective would he have been playing against?
So, in determining what supplement one should choose for their dietary needs, absorption means nothing if it is not coupled with effective utilization. One should always ask, “Is what I am about to ingest going to be effectively utilized by my body? Will my body receive any benefit from that which is being absorbed?” Remember, even lead, mercury, arsenic can be absorbed in the body.
Unfortunately, if an item is an isolated form, as is the case with more than 99% of the supplements on the market, isolated away from their naturally occurring “team” or complex, the substance will not be effectively utilized, if at all. This is the case with all supplements, not just Vitamin C vs. ascorbic acid mentioned here.
This is why I only advocate organic wholefood supplements (as found in Grown By Nature), as they are the only true “supplement” by definition. They are the only form of supplement that truly replaces or replenishes that which is missing in our diet. Since our food is always in a complex structure, so too should our form of supplements be in.
1Journal of Medicinal Food Volume 4, No. 4, 2001 http://gbn.grownbynature.com/vitccholesterol.pdf