Thursday, July 18, 2013

Which Form of Supplements is Best?

by Yohanan Burket

A bewildering array of options exist in the forms of herbal and nutritional supplements, including:
  • Capsules – gelatin or plant-based encapsulated powder, good for 6 months to 1 year
  • Tablets – compacted powder with binders, good for 6 months to 1 year
  • Gel Caps    Not recommended because the oils generally contained within are rancid
  • Tinctures – liquid with compounds extracted from plants
          Glycerine – safe for children, this base (menstruum) is good for two years
          Alcohol – this menstruum has a shelf-life of 10 years
          Vinegar – rarely used as it is only useful for extracting certain herbs

  • Extracts – liquid concentrate with compounds extracted from plants

Answering the question of what is best depends upon your criteria for purchase. Do you want:
  • Lowest cost?
  • Longest shelf-life?
  • Most bio-available?

Lowest Cost Supplements

Lowest cost supplements sacrifice shelf-life and bio-availability, in general. To compare capsules to liquid extracts, a typical herb is selected: Panax Ginseng.

  1. The NOW company offers 500 mg capsules x 250 capsules = 125 grams of powder for $19.46.
  2. The SWANSON company offers a 29.6 ml (1 oz) extract at 1:1. The designation 1:1 means 1 gram of powder equals 1 ml of liquid. Therefore, 29.6 ml corresponds to 29.6 grams at $5.99.
  3. Scaling the SWANSON 29.6 grams to see what it would cost for 125 grams: (125/29.6) x $5.99 = $25.29.
  4. The NOW capsules, for an equivalent amount of powder, are cheaper ($19.46 versus $25.29, or about 25% cheaper)
  5. I checked another supplier of the NOW company's similar Panax Ginseng 520 mg capsules x 250 capsules = 130 grams of powder for $27.17. This supplier's price makes the SWANSON option less expensive ($27.17 versus $25.29 SWANSON price)! However, the more expensive supplier offers international shipping, whereas the lower cost supplier does not in this particular case.

In each case, the quality of the herb (bio-availability) is essentially the same. Thus, capsules (and by extension, tablets) are cheaper than liquid forms of a given herb or nutrient, in general. There will be occasional exceptions to the rule, due to other factors such as non-competitive manufacturers or suppliers. Both NOW and SWANSON offer competitive prices.
If pill (capsules or tablets) are used on an ongoing basis, or planned to be used within six months, then it is generally the best option, but you must shop around.
Capsules are better than tablets, as they don't contain nutritionally-useless binders.

Longest Shelf-life Supplements

The liquid forms of supplements have a longer shelf-life that can sometimes justify the somewhat higher price. If you want a medicine chest with supplements that are seldom used, then the liquid forms are cost-justified. The alcohol-based supplements are cheaper than the corresponding glycerite supplements. Alcohol supplements also have a 10 year shelf-life, compared to only two years for glycerites. Therefore, alcohol-based supplements are recommended for adult medicine chests. A few exceptions do exist, such as treatments for cirrhosis of the liver and influenza (grippe). For these exceptions, and for children, glycerite supplements are recommended.

Most Bio-available Supplements

There can be a huge difference in the quality and the type of supplement used. For example, some supplements labeled Magnesium show that it is in inferior form of Magnesium Oxide in the fine print. A vastly superior form of magnesium is Magnesium Taurate, which is more expensive at purchase. But which supplement is truly the cheapest from the consumer's point of view?
Just to throw out some numbers for illustrative purposes, let's say that Magnesium Taurate is four times more effective in the body than Magnesium Oxide. Further, let's assume that the Magnesium Taurate is twice as expensive as the Magnesium Oxide. Which is the more economical form to buy? You guessed right: the “initially more expensive” Magnesium Taurate.
A good deal of research is needed to ferret out information such as relative bio-availability, as you can see. My suggestion is simply to buy the more bio-active forms of a nutrient if it is only for short-term use.


To answer the questions poised above:
  • Lowest cost? Answer: Capsules and pills, by roughly 25% if you shop around
  • Longest shelf-life? Answer: Alcohol-based tinctures and extracts
  • Most bio-available? Answer: You must research this information for each nutrient!
Researching just the different types of magnesium is daunting, considering that there are 13 different forms on the market:

Magnesium aspartate
Magnesium malate
Magnesium chloride
Magnesium orotate
Magnesium citrate
Magnesium oxide
Magnesium gluconate
Magnesium pidolate
Magnesium glycinate
Magnesium sulfate
Magnesium lactate
Magnesium taurate
Magnesium levulinate

I've read that magnesium taurate is the best form of magnesium for the heart because of the taurine present, but haven't discovered how it compares to its rivals yet. Magnesium oxide, said to be the least desirable form, is nevertheless an excellent laxative!
According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), Magnesium gluconate exhibited the highest bio-availability of ten forms of magnesium tested in rats. See for details.
The form of magnesium also dictates what percentage of that compound contains elemental magnesium. In the case of magnesium oxide, fully 60% is elemental magnesium. But coupled to a bio-availability of only 4%, the net magnesium absorption is only 2.4% of the magnesium oxide (4% of 60%). Thus, a 500 mg magnesium oxide pill only provides 12 mg of absorbable elemental magnesium (2.4% of 500 mg).
The popular magnesium citrate contains only 16% elemental magnesium and has a bio-availability of 90%, producing 14.4% absorbable elemental magnesium. This means 500 mg of magnesium citrate contains 72 mg of absorbable elemental magnesium which is six times more than magnesium oxide.
When taking recommended daily allowances of magnesium, consider that the figures given refer to absorbable nutrients.
Ailments and Remedies are listed here for your convenience and were selected for international shipping:

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