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Bioavailability: Why is it Important?

Written by Andy Kester: Nutritional Biochemist and Cofounder of Ubiotic Health

You may have heard it said that you are what you eat.  What is a more accurate statement is actually "You are what you absorb".  The subject of absorption and nutrition is a big one, but there is one area in particular that applies to dietary supplementation.  Bio-enhancement or bioavailability is a hot topic in the world of nutritional supplements, both in the context of beneficial and harmful compounds your body can absorb.

Did you know that among all of the things you consume, your body does not absorb all of it?

When it comes to nutritional supplements or food there is a concept called bioavailability that sounds complex, but basically is absorption - the amount of a nutrient that you eat that your body actually absorbs in its active form. When it comes to food and supplements there are a lot of factors that affect what you absorb.

Take carrots for instance.  We've all heard that carrots are good for our eyes and that is because carrots contain vitamin A in the form of beta carotene.  Beta carotene is the pigment that makes carrots orange. When you eat raw carrots you absorb a very small percentage of beta carotene, but when you cook the carrot and add a little bit of fat, like butter for instance, the percentage of beta carotene that your body absorbs goes way up.  

So there are actually good things that you consume, like vegetables, where key nutrients may not get absorbed because of low bioavailability. There are other things your body is not very good at absorbing, like the beneficial compounds from turmeric root for instance.

Unfortunately, some things have very high bioavailability, like glucose.  Your body is very good at absorbing sugar, which we all know is useful for many biological processes, but can be dangerous if over-consumed and very common to our culture. This is a great reason to understand foods that lower blood sugar, so we can be aware of how we eat and what we absorb. So there are various factors that affect how much of something your body will absorb when you eat it.

So why is this important for supplements?

This is important because you are not going to absorb everything that you see on the label.  There are lots of factors that will contribute to what ingredients and what doses actually get utilized in their active form by your body.  Things like whether or not you take it with food, for example.  But more importantly, how it is formulated.  What form are the nutrients in?  Where is it sourced from?  What other ingredients are in the product that can help create a synergy - where ingredients work together to promote absorption.  All of these are important factors to consider when making a supplement purchase.




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