Bioavailability: The Science Behind Absorption




Foods and nutrients may be good for your health, but they only qualify as “nutritious” if the body can access all they have to offer. Try getting a child to eat their broccoli and you may understand the point.


Absorption: Nutritional Access

Getting nutrients into the bloodstream means the body can use them for all life-sustaining bodily functions. But how do they get into the bloodstream? Optimally, pre-digested foods and fluids would enter intravenously, direct into the bloodstream for complete absorption. This is unlikely for most, however, and although we get some interaction through the surface of our skin, our primary access point is through the mouth, where the process of digestion begins. As breakdown starts, foods and fluids mash, mix and move, and absorption of valuable elements occurs throughout the gastrointestinal tract.


Absorption: Not a Perfect System

It would be ideal if 100% of what we provide to the body was available for absorption – 100% bioavailability — though for many reasons the processes of digestion and absorption just do not work with perfect efficiency.  For example, foods that have very high fiber content, very high fat content, or those eaten within a large meal may simply have too many interfering factors to absorb everything as it passes through. Sometimes we simply take more than the body needs, whereby the excess is simply excreted. Certain combinations of foods, juices and medications have also been shown to adversely affect the absorption of certain nutrients. Additionally, specific chemical reactions and substances (i.e., catalysts and precursors) are sometimes necessary for nutrients to cross tissue barriers and break them down into usable forms. Without the right conditions, some foods, vitamins and minerals will just pass through the digestive tract with poor bioavailability, unabsorbed.


How to Optimize Bioavailability

There are certain factors that can assist in getting the most out of what you take in.

  • Cooking, chopping and blending can soften fibers and release nutrients; cooking with oil may further bring out nutrients (e.g., cooked carrots, tomatoes stewed with olive oil)
  • Stimulating breakdown in the mouth by chewing can help maximize absorptive opportunities
  • Pairing certain foods and beverages, minerals and macronutrients can also support optimal absorption (e.g., protein with iron, vitamin D with fat)
  • Pairing certain micronutrients together may help as well (e.g., iron with vitamin C)
  • Avoid food and nutrient interactions that are known to compete for absorbency, which would reduce the possibility of getting all you need (e.g., calcium and other micronutrients)
  • Do your research on vitamin mineral supplements that come in more bioavailable forms; some naturally have this feature (e.g., krill oil is more dissolvable than fish oil), while some contain special ingredients to enhance absorption


Particularly for those needing to correct a noted deficiency, keep these things in mind to maximize what you’re obtaining from your daily food and beverage intake. For those interested in packaging or manufacturing, connect with Neptune about improving the bioavailability of elements within your nutritional portfolio, and preparing synergistic combinations that work.