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Can the body detect the origin of a nutrient in a supplement?

Phase 2

Ask Dr. Mike


We would like to ask your doctor if he has an opinion whether the body can tell the origin of a nutrient in a supplement? For instance, consumers have myriad preferences when it comes to what form of magnesium, calcium, B-12, zinc, ascorbates…etc. Can the body detect a plant based or USP based nutrient? Does one possess more efficacy?

– Jason Bander, Lifethyme Natural Market, (212) 420-1600, www.lifethymemarket.com


Different sources and formulations of the same nutrient will ultimately behave in the same way once absorbed. This is called the mechanism of action. However, the benefit to the person, what is called efficacy, can in fact differ. Take for instance zinc. A lozenge of zinc acetate will dissolve, releasing close to 100% of the zinc into the oral cavity. However, other forms of zinc, like zinc oxide, will only release up to 80%. So the efficacy for zinc acetate is greater than zinc oxide due to better “nutrakinetics” – i.e. the release of zinc into the oral cavity. With more available zinc the benefit will be greater. But with that said, zinc is zinc, regardless of the form. So different sources and formulations of the same nutrient will have different efficacies based solely on differences in rates of absorption, distribution and elimination. But the nutrient itself has the same mechanism of action regardless of its form or source.

– Michael Smith, MD, Senior Health Scientist

Ask Dr. Mike is a new feature where readers are invited to submit questions to Dr. Michael Smith on a topic of interest. Click here to submit a question to Dr. Mike.

Michael A. Smith, M.D. is the author of The Supplement Pyramid – How to Build Your Personalized Nutritional Regimen., and host of Healthy Talk on RadioMD.com. He also serves as senior health scientist for Life Extension. His engaging ability to present complex medical topics, be it inflammation, diabetes, migraines, food sensitivity or weight management, in a clear, conversational manner has won him a sizable following among anti-aging and disease-prevention enthusiasts. Also known as “Dr. Mike,” he is heard on numerous syndicated national health television and radio shows. He is a graduate of the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

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