Awhile back I was discussing nutrition , more specifically supplementation with a patient when he commented that his primary health care provider said that the only thing that taking vitamins was good for was making expensive urine. At first blush I was a bit taken back by that comment. But as I thought more about it, I realized on some level that observation has some merit. No matter what substance we humans put into our mouths, whether it is food, nutritional supplements or drugs, prescription or over the counter, how much of that substance we absorb depends on many factors. One of the major factors which comes to mind is age. As we grow into middle age our bodies produce less digestive enzymes and stomach acids which are responsible for breaking down any substance we eat or swallow. The more unprocessed and natural a food is, such as an apple as opposed to a cupcake, our bodies will break it down and absorb its nutrients more easily. That’s because the apple has enzymes as part of its makeup which works in tandem with our digestive system to break down the apple and absorb its nutrients. Processed food does not have any inherent enzymes so our bodies have to work harder to break down this food and absorb what little nutritional substance they have. In regards to nutritional supplements, how we absorb these products also depends on the quality of the product. Even a high quality synthetic supplement has limitations on how much of the product we can absorb and utilize. These type of supplements are so large in their quantity because, in the best of circumstances we absorb a relatively small percentage of the supplement. For example , a fifty year old male taking a 1500 mg calcium supplement on a daily basisis is probably only absorbing a small percentage of that mineral depending on the type of calcium, his own personal health and other factors. Whole food supplements , which are literally derived from real foods are more compatible with our digestive system and therefore can be in smaller quantity and are absorbed more easily. All substances that we ingest that we do not absorb are excreted and eventually work their way into our waterways and oceans. This is especially unfortunate for some marine life ,which has been shown to be adversely affected by exposure to medications and drugs which are rapidly accumulating in the world’s waters. There are numerous factors involved in properly advising someone regarding a nutritional program. I have seen too many patients walk into my office with an armload of supplements that they have randomly bought like the flavor of the month. Factors such as age , gender , and health goals all must be taken into consideration when planning a nutritional supplement program for a patient. Remember , not all supplements are made equal. One of the services I offer in my office is nutritional counciling. I will leave you with this question which I will answer in my next blog. What is one of , if not the most responsive organ in the human body to a proper nutritional supplementation program ? Until the next blog !