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Expert Q&A

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Are vitamins and supplements effectively absorbed?

Asked by Mark, San Diego, California

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I've heard a lot about vitamins and supplements passing through the body unabsorbed, especially when in pill form. I've also heard that this can be a more common problem with low-cost and generic versions, even though the ingredient list is identical. My solution lately has been to crush the pill to powder and down it with some milk. Does this solve the problem or is there something inherent in cheaper supplements that inhibits absorption?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Mark. This is an interesting question that brings up several important points. First of all, price or brand do not necessarily determine the quality of a vitamin supplement. An independent testing lab, consumerlabs.com, found that several higher priced vitamins were among the worst offenders in terms of contaminants or not having the vitamin levels stated on the label. In my opinion, the best solution would be to go with a brand that carries the seal of USP or NSF, two nonprofit organizations that certify that vitamins are contaminant free and made according to good manufacturing practices. If products don't carry the seal, this does not necessarily mean that they are inferior; they may simply be untested so if they are made by a reputable company, they are most likely safe and well made.

While crushing pills may ensure that they break down appropriately in the stomach, taking them with milk is not great idea, as milk may interfere with the absorption of some of the nutrients in a multivitamin such as iron. Taking them with juice is a better idea, as the acid and vitamin C in juice may help with the absorption. Taking a vitamin supplement with a meal is the best approach as many of the vitamins and minerals are better absorbed by the body in the presence of fat and protein.

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