“You are what you eat” is a familiar phrase to all of us, and while this statement is certainly true, “You are what you absorb” is even more accurate! Think about it, not only do we absorb sunlight through our skin which promotes the conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol to Vitamin D, but we soak up toxins that are applied to our skin in the form of cosmetics, lotions, soaps, perfumes, and even cleaning supplies that can poison our bodies. On the positive side, our small intestines are naturally equipped to absorb important nutrients from the foods we eat. But absorption and assimilation of nutrients are affected by several factors that, when optimized, increase your body’s ability to transform raw materials into energy and the building blocks for life. These factors include:
1. Digestive Health
- “Leaky gut” or “intestinal hyperpermeability” as a legitimate health condition is becoming increasingly recognized by health practitioners of all types, including those in conventional medicine. Unfortunately, most traditional medical professionals are unaware of the connection between diet and lifestyle as they relate to “leaky gut.” According to Dr. Linda A. Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine and Digestive Center, with leaky gut, the evidence -- about what causes it and how to treat it -- has yet to fully accumulate.
“We are in the infancy of understanding what to do. People who are making claims about what to do are doing so without evidence.” (1)
Celiac disease creates a smooth, slick small intestine where villi are scarred and unable to absorb nutrients. Often celiac sufferers are also plagued with eczema and other skin disorders-- eczema on the skin points to eczema in the gut as well, complete with cracking and oozing sores. The gut MUST be healed in order for proper absorption to take place. Read more here about how to heal your gut.
For decades now, brilliant doctors such as Joel Wallach, Royal Lee, Bernard Jensen, Weston A. Price, Natasha Campbell-McBride, Peter Glidden, and many others have understood the deleterious, inflammatory effects of a “white trash” diet on human health, and that by adjusting the nutritional lifestyle of their patients, they have seen not only “leaky gut” resolved but also other serious gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, GERD, etc. The protocol fluctuates by person due to bio-individuality and various degrees of degeneration. What works for one person may not work for another person or may need to be slightly “tweaked” for effectiveness, but one thing is for sure: modern, processed foods wreak havoc on gut health.
- Poor nutrition-- a lack of knowledge about nutrition and how it affects gut health are common among Americans today. Part of the reason is that nutrition education comes from so-called “food manufacturers” themselves, who promote their processed foods as healthy. Additionally, much confusion about food has come about in the last century with the discovery of vitamins and minerals in food, which led to a mindset that food is scientific vs. nutritive. As Americans, we have come to believe that we cannot understand nutrition unless we have expert training in the field, although our grandparents somehow got by without a degree in nutrition. For instance, our ancestors knew that grains and legumes had to be soaked for maximum benefit. We know now that these foods contain phytic acid which binds to certain nutrients such as phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable for use in the body.
Caffeine is also known to block mineral absorption and accelerate excretion from the body. So, in cases of adrenal fatigue, anxiety, or extreme stress when minerals are being more rapidly utilized, caffeine can add insult to injury. Sugar also accelerates the excretion of nutrients from the body, leading to nutrient depletion.
- Inadequate enzyme production-- Digestion begins in the mouth with the production of amylase for the breakdown of carbohydrates and salivary lipase for the breakdown of lipids (fats). Other enzymes along the digestive tract address various components of food, including pepsin which breaks down cartilage and hydrochloric acid for the digestion of proteins. As a side note, herbivores do not produce these two enzymes; only carnivores and omnivores make these enzymes, which means that humans were designed to eat meat!
Thorough chewing of food (at least 20 times) before swallowing increases enzyme production to aid in digestion. Digestive bitters in the form of herbs (or a salad of mixed greens) also stimulate the production of enzymes. And if you are still deficient in digestive enzymes, which will be evidenced by gas, bloating, acid reflux, mineral imbalances as measured by Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, then supplementation may be in order. Click here to find out which enzyme is right for you.
- Adequate sodium in the diet is essential for the production of hydrochloric acid. Low sodium diets have wreaked havoc on digestive health in this country! The stomach lining is composed of sodium, without which we develop ulcers due to lack of protection from stomach acid. Acid reflux is more common in a sodium deficient state. In fact, our ancestors did not need to use antacids because they consumed plenty of real, organic salt! Incidentally, low stomach acidity prevents the absorption of B12, leading to pernicious anemia.
- Carbonated beverages reduce stomach acid as well, so avoid them, especially when consumed with meals! This is so important because undigested food that passes from the stomach into the small intestine is very rough and damaging to the villi there, increasing the incidence of gut disorders.
2. Proper Supplementation
I began my journey as a Nutritional Consultant believing that adequate nutrition could be obtained from food alone. While I firmly believe that the type and quality of foods that we eat are very important factors for health, I have become convinced that in today’s modern world food alone is not sufficient; we need to supplement with additional nutrients EVERY DAY! Why? Aside from compromised absorption due to poor digestive health, there are several more reasons:
- Mineral-depleted soils-- since the dawn of industrialized farming, the foods we grow have diminished in nutrient content due to lack of replenishment of minerals to the soil through:
- Crop rotation and allowing the land to rest every seventh year
- Organic nutrients in the form of manure, plant material such as leaves, wood ash, wood chips, leftover plant material, etc. being tilled back into the soil and allowed to decompose
- Chemical fertilizers which contain only three nutrients (NPK: Nitrogen, Phosphorus & Potassium) vs. 6-15 nutrients that are required for healthy plants. Humans require 60 essential minerals, which cannot be obtained from food if the soils they are grown in lack these minerals in the first place! In fact, there are at least ten diseases associated with every nutrient deficiency, and we have seen a direct correlation over the last century between mineral depletion in soils and increased disease.
- Bioavailability of nutrients-- some forms of nutrients are more easily absorbed and assimilated than others. For instance, tablets or capsules must be disassembled by the body before they can be used, and depending on the pH of the digestive tract, this process may or may not occur. Therefore, a liquid form is much more bioavailable and can be absorbed immediately. But not all liquid forms are equal!
“Colloidal minerals exhibit properties that enhance absorption. Principles of biochemistry support the view that colloidal minerals may be more bioavailable than minerals in solid supplement or food forms.” -- By Yvette R. Schlussel, Ph.D. (2)
Colloids are nanoparticles that are able to easily penetrate the cells of our bodies. They are so tiny that they can be suspended in water, making them very easily absorbed.
- Correct pH of supplements--an acidic carrier is best for absorption of most nutrients, such as iron and calcium. Another factor that affects absorption is the speed of transit time through the digestive tract. An overly acidic digestive tract will speed the movement of food through the system, resulting in low nutrient absorption rates. A balanced pH that is slightly acidic (6.5) is optimal for overall health and transit time.
- Source of nutrients--plant-derived minerals are able to be used in the body without having to undergo an enzymatic conversion. Dr. Bernard Jensen taught the more “highly evolved” a mineral source, the better the assimilation into the body. Rocks and soil are the "lowesst evolved," then plants, and animals are the highest. Elemental forms of minerals can be not only difficult for the body to use but can also be toxic. An example of this is inorganic forms of iron, which can eventually lead to hemochromatosis. Supplementing with organic forms of iron will replace inorganic forms and correct the imbalance. Antagonists to iron, such as copper, may also be useful in restoring homeostasis.
- A full complement of minerals, including cofactors-- without Vitamin D, calcium is not absorbed through the gut. Without Vitamin B12, iron cannot be absorbed and utilized. Rather than myopically supplementing with one concentrated and isolated nutrient, we are better off taking a full-spectrum of synergistic nutrients that work together, just like eating a whole food vs. taking an extract. It is important to note that absorption rates can be affected by existing mineral balance in our bodies. For instance, if we have adequate calcium or B Vitamins, then the body will throw off excess amounts contained in supplements. This is one reason why opponents of supplementation say that vitamins are only good for creating expensive urine; however, wouldn’t you rather have some nutrients thrown off and “wasted” than to contract easily preventable diseases which are linked to nutrient deficiencies? I like to look at supplementation as an insurance policy; you may spend more, but it is well worth the health benefits!
“Supplementation with minerals has been shown to improve the nutritional status and/or lower risk factors among patients with arthritis, diabetes, cancer, anorexia, and hypertension.” -- By Yvette R. Schlussel, Ph.D. (3)
Supplement manufacturers often make bold claims about how their products offer a specific absorption rate, but as you can see, such claims cannot be substantiated; there are too many factors related to form of nutrients and bioindividuality to allow dogmatic statements. But one thing is certain: Our bodies require 90 essential nutrients every day for maintenance, prevention and reversal of disease. Ask me how I can help you find the right supplements for your body based on your personal mineral balance!
L’chaim-- To Life!