What is Bioavailability and Does it Matter for Supplements?
What is Bioavailability?
You care about what you put in your body, right? Well, did you know that not all vitamins you take will be exactly what your body needs in order to function better?
Short & sweet: bioavailability is the level to which a substance can be used by the body once consumed.
Vitamin B12 is a great example.
There are several different kinds of B12 we use in our body, but not all vitamin supplements contain the B12 we need.
Most contain cyanocobalamin, which is a form of B12 that a large percentage of the American population cannot metabolize properly. If you’re taking a vitamin B12 supplement and don’t seem to notice anything, you’re likely dealing with this issue.
B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, which means our bodies need a lot of B12. We also need to be replacing it at a constant rate, because we cannot store water soluble vitamins in the body.
B12 helps the body produce more ATP (adenosine triphosphate), our body’s main source of energy. But B12 also helps us produce red blood cells, strengthens our nerves, and it even helps detox our bodies.
But in most cases, cyanocobalamin will NOT help.
In fact, it might even cause harm in some people. If you look at the beginning of each of the words to describe vitamin B12 forms, you’ll see what I mean.
Cyanocobalamin starts with cyano-, which means there’s literally a cyanide molecule attached (7) to this form of vitamin B12. While most publications seem to think this is safe, I wouldn’t want to risk that.
On top of this concern, certain people have a genetic mutation called the MTHFR mutated genes (8).
If these people do not get the methylcobalamin form of B12 in supplement form, they might not ever achieve optimal health. They would miss out on producing much needed red blood cells, more ATP, and would even have trouble detoxing free radicals.
The Methylcobalamin form of b12 is a more bioavailable version of this vitamin.
The Differences in Types of Vitamin B12
The Active Coenzyme Forms of B12 (1)
Methylcobalamin Functions in the cell plasma, is required to activate folic acid and for methionine synthase
Adenosylcobalamin Functions in the mitochondria, is vital for the citrate cycle and energy production
The Natural Form of vitamin B12
Hydroxocobalamin The form that is produced by bacteria, has a detoxifying effect and can easily be converted into the active forms in the body
The Synthetic Form of B12
Cyanocobalamin A synthetic substance made in laboratories, which can be converted into the active B12 forms in the body. Often used in supplements
Why Vitamin B12 Doesn’t Work for Some People
Do you know people who take B12 for energy?
Well, now you know why they get energy from their B12 supplements. They’re using a bioavailable version.
But if someone is taking B12 and they do not get any energy from their supplements, they are most likely taking the wrong vitamins for their body’s needs.
Taking bioavailable vitamins will change your life
What are some of the benefits of taking higher-quality, bioavailable vitamins? Here’s just a few:
- Less harsh on the digestive tract
- Improved neurotransmitter production
- Higher antioxidant production & clearing of free radicals in the body
- Better ATP (energy) production within the cells
Let’s take a look at each of these.
Bioavailable vitamins are better for digestion
Vitamin supplements are absorbed in the body via the digestive tract.
Whenever a pill or food gets broken down in our digestive tract, our intestines will pull all the nutrients it can out of the broken down food. Those nutrients will then be absorbed in the gut lining and will them be converted into a more available form of that vitamin.
For some forms of vitamins, another step is needed to convert the vitamin to its most bioavailable or - active - form.
This can be a lot of work for our bodies and we sometimes even produce inflammatory byproducts from the breakdown of these nutrients (think free radicals).
So, the less steps in the conversion cycle to the bioavailable form, the less work and possibly less damage will be produced as the end result.
Bioavailability & neurotransmitter production
Back on the B12 example: bioavailable methylcobalamin can be a game changer for some people.
It can help produce more Serotonin or Dopamine, which each help with mood and motivation - a different kind of energy, but still a necessary one.
But our bodies need more than methylcobalamin to produce neurotransmitters.
Important cofactors like magnesium and vitamin B6 are also needed.
But just like B12, our bodies need the bioavailable form of B6 in order to function. Pyridoxal-5 Phosphate is the form we all need and function with, but most supplements contain Pyridoxine.
Pyridoxal-5 Phosphate (P5P) is not only needed for neurotransmitter production, but it is also required to make antioxidants such as Glutathione and Taurine.
And just like B12 deficiency, it is also possible to have B6 deficiency. Because B6 is needed in so many pathways in the body, it is vital that we have a constant supply. (2)(3)
Better forms of vitamins improve antioxidant production
Since we are talking about antioxidants, let’s focus on Glutathione, our body’s most abundant antioxidant.(4)
It’s made from three different essential amino acids: glycine, cysteine and glutamine. But since this process needs several enzymes to convert Glutathione into its bioavailable form, any type of cofactor deficiency or genetic mutation will delay - or even halt - this pathway.
That’s why is so much easier to have someone take Glutathione in a supplement form.
But keep in mind, oral Glutathione can also be hard to supplement with because a healthy digestive tract is needed to absorb and convert the oral Glutathione into it’s bioavailable form.
And how many people have inflamed guts nowadays?
That’s why intravenous or intramuscular Glutathione injections would be the best way to get this into your system. And with IV Glutathione, you can even take higher doses which would be better for people who have severe health issues.
Bioavailable vitamins can improve cellular energy
Carnitine is another amino acid we need from our diet in order to produce ATP and repair muscles(5).
We can get this from our meat intake, but the source of our meat can be questionable and each time we break down meat in our digestive tract, there can be potentially cell-damaging free radicals released from the gut lining.
These free radicals can be measured in lab work such as TMAO, MPO and arachadonic acid. Elevated levels of each of these tests can raise heart inflammation (6).
Meat digestion can also alter our gut bacteria, or flora, releasing inflammation. The more meat consumed, the higher the risk for free radicals being released from the gut lining which will cause damage to the gut and more inflammation in the body.
Think about that next time you eat a steak.
However, vegans are at risk for low carnitine levels. And since carnitine is needed for many different important pathways in the body, it’s vital that we supplement with it.
Some research has shown that supplementing with carnitine will not release those same free radicals that meat consumption will produce. This is why supplementation of carnitine might better coming from a pill than coming from your dinner plate.
Take bioavailable vitamins, reap the benefits
Supplementing with vitamins can provide a person more than just energy.
It can help a person function better, which might mean a better mood, stronger immune system, and even better sleep.
Vitamins are the nutrients our body needs for our biochemistry. If we are depleted in any nutrient, it could cause dysfunction in order body.
And because we don’t get all the nutrients we need from our diet, or if our diet causes damage to our body, we must supplement with the right nutrients to improve our overall health.
After all, we could be deficient in B12 or B6 and that could be the cause of our low energy and mood… our bodies are not deficient in coffee.