At a time when alternative medicine is becoming mainstream, many patients are interested in exploring the possibilities of nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, patients often don’t feel equipped to differentiate between high-quality products and inferior variations—and recent scandals involving the discovery of harmful chemicals in a number of over-the-counter dietary supplements only compound the lack of confidence.1 While patients can take comfort in the fact that toxic ingredients are a rarity, knowing which ingredients work and which ones don’t is a different matter altogether.2 In part two of our series on how to choose a supplement, we explore the world of supplement ingredients, including which ones to avoid and why finding a supplement manufacturer you can trust is essential
Avoid Inactive and Low-Bioavailability Ingredients
In the body, the molecules of a supplement’s active ingredient need to be in a format that cells can process, and the molecules need to be in the vicinity of those cells before being processed. If the molecules of the supplement’s active ingredients aren’t in an acceptable format, the supplement won’t have its intended physiological effect. In scientific terminology, such a supplement would be said to have low bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to the quantity of a substance which cells can use after the substance enters the body and makes its way into the bloodstream.
In the first part of this series, we explored the importance of bioavailability and some of the methods nutritional supplement manufacturers use to enhance bioavailability, such as specialized additives and delivery systems. Sometimes, however, ingredients alone are sufficient to evaluate whether a supplement will have adequate bioavailability. When a patient uses a supplement with suboptimal ingredients, it is as if they had ordered a glass of water and been given a glass filled to the brim with ice. The ice is technically water, but it isn’t the format of water that they intended to purchase or that is most useful to them. With nutritional supplements, however, the differences are often more subtle and difficult for consumers to identify.
Vitamin C, for example, has two primary molecular forms: levo (L-ascorbic acid) and dextro (D-ascorbic acid). The levo form is the biologically active vitamin and is found in many food and supplement products, where it exhibits high bioavailability.3 In contrast, the dextro form is much less bioavailable; in fact, some researchers suggest that it is not nutritionally relevant in any meaningful way due to its low bioavailability.4 Meanwhile, there is a multitude of other vitamin C variations, including mineral ascorbates, vitamin C combined with bioflavonoids, ascorbate combined with vitamin C metabolites, and ascorbyl palmitate, and there is evidence that suggests there may be significant differences in bioavailability between them.5 As such, how effective a vitamin C supplement will likely be informed by which specific ingredient is being used.
Avoid Allergenic Fillers
While the efficacy of active ingredients is a significantly more common concern in supplements, some ingredients may still present risks to patient health or cause tolerability issues. Patients will need to pay attention to whether any of the filler ingredients are allergens or may trigger sensitivities. This is particularly true people with a gluten allergy or sensitivity, as many nutritional supplements contain wheat-derived ingredients. Less common allergens like egg albumin, soybean oil, and mustard seed-derived ingredients can also be problematic and even dangerous.
Pick a Trustworthy ManufacturerTesseract Medical Research and their approach to curcumin supplements.
Much like with vitamin C, curcumin can vary dramatically in quality depending on the manufacturer. While many patients take curcumin supplements for their anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin suffers from naturally low bioavailability due to the amount of time it takes to be processed into a format that the body can use via the liver. As the liver slowly breaks down the curcumin, it leaves behind another molecule called tetrahydrocurcumin. This molecule subsequently enters the bloodstream, where it is fully bioavailable. In other words, tetrahydrocurcumin is the molecule responsible for the curcumin supplement’s potential benefits.
An hour after the patient takes the supplement, tetrahydrocurcumin starts to be filtered from the bloodstream and incorporated into urine or feces at a steady rate.6 However, because the liver can only break down a small amount of curcumin at a time, a standard curcumin supplement doesn’t ever produce enough tetrahydrocurcumin in the bloodstream to have a noticeable effect for the patient; by the time the entire dose of curcumin has been converted by the liver into tetrahydrocurcumin, much of the tetrahydrocurcumin which was converted earlier has been eliminated from the body. Essentially, the supplement can’t work.
Tesseract corrects for the shortcomings of curcumin supplements by offering supplements containing only tetrahydrocurcumin. Because these tetrahydrocurcumin supplements don’t have to be converted by the liver before producing their intended effects, they are far more bioavailable and far more effective. Additionally, Tesseract’s products are hypoallergenic and gluten-free, ensuring that patients can safely integrate them into their treatment plan.
The differences between curcumin and tetrahydrocurcumin supplements underline the importance of trusting the right supplement manufacturer. Manufacturers that invest the resources necessary to create innovative, evidence-based solutions designed to produce better outcomes are more likely to give patients the results they’re looking for. The creation of tetrahydrocurcumin supplements embodies the approach that is necessary to provide patients with functional supplements built with high-quality ingredients. For patients who are wondering how to choose the best quality supplement, the answer may ultimately lie in finding the best quality manufacturer.
- Carroll L. 2018. Some dietary supplements contain potentially harmful drugs. Reuters Health. https://in.reuters.com/article/us-health-supplements-safety-idINKCN1MM2E3
- Stemmermann GN and Kolonel LN. 1978. Talc-coated rice as a risk factor for stomach cancer. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 31(11):2017-2019. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/31/11/2017/4655937?redirectedFrom=PDF
- Svirbely JL and Szent-Gyorgyi A. 1932. The chemical nature of vitamin C. The Biochemical Journal 26(3):865-870. https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/WG/B/B/G/W/_/wgbbgw.pdf
- Carr AC and Vissers MCM. 2013. Synthetic or food-derived vitamin C — are they equally bioavailable? Nutrients. 5(11):4284-4304. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3847730/
- Linus Pauling Institute. 2016. The Bioavailability of Different Forms of Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid). https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C/supplemental-forms
- Shehzad A, Khan S, Shehzad O, and Lee YS. 2010. Curcumin therapeutic promises and bioavailability in colorectal cancer. Drugs of Today. 46(7):523-532. https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/5348337/Drugs_of_Today.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1545259210&Signature=8ljIpjABpLY5uxwZotqXaIBRG9k%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DCURCUMIN_THERAPEUTIC_PROMISES_AND_BIOAVA.pdf