Tips for Improving the Absorption of Vitamins

Nov 13, 2023 Lifestyle Tips

Tips for Improving the Absorption of Vitamins

Quick Scoop

  • Vitamins are essential to your overall health and wellness. While you don’t need large amounts, not getting enough of them can have negative health consequences.
  • It’s important to get a mix of water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins in your diet as they play different roles in your body.
  • Many factors influence how well your body can absorb and utilize vitamins, such as the types of foods you’re eating and how they’re prepared, whether you take medications and the health of your gut microbiome.

There’s no question that nutrition is a foundational aspect of health. This includes eating a wide array of foods to get an abundance of nutrients. For many people, this includes a combination of whole foods and supplemental products to help fill in any gaps.

Whatever your diet looks like, getting enough vitamins is crucial. In addition to consuming a variety of vitamins, it’s important to consider how well they are being absorbed by your body. There are some factors that can interfere with the bioavailability of vitamins. Fortunately, there are also some steps you can take to help their absorption.

This article covers the basics of why vitamins are so important to your health, the factors that can inhibit or interfere with their absorption, and how you can optimize the vitamins you get from your diet.

Understanding the Basics of Vitamins

There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble. To keep your body healthy and performing at its best, you need both.

Fat-soluble vitamins include Vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are best absorbed when consumed with a source of dietary fat. After your body utilizes what it needs, any leftover fat-soluble vitamins are stored for later use in your fatty tissues and liver. [1]

Water-soluble vitamins include Vitamin C and the eight B Vitamins. These dissolve in water and any unused amounts are readily excreted by your body. This means they are not stored for later use so it’s important to replenish water-soluble vitamins every day. [2]

Learn More: Fat Soluble Vs Water Soluble Vitamins: What's The Difference?

What Do Vitamins Do in Your Body?

Vitamins have countless roles in your body. As you can see below, each one contributes to a unique purpose behind your overall health and wellness.

  • B Vitamins help us get the energy we need to carry out our day by converting food into cellular energy.
  • Vitamin A is essential for eye function and healthy vision and helps support a healthy immune system.
  • Folate is important for proper red blood cell formation.
  • Vitamin B12 is an essential supplement for vegetarians and may help reduce fatigue for those low in Vitamin B12.
  • Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals in the body.
  • Vitamin D supports bone, teeth, muscle, and immune health and helps improve Calcium absorption.
  • Vitamin E is an antioxidant that supports a healthy immune system and neutralizes free radicals in the body.
  • Vitamin K1 helps maintain a healthy circulatory system while Vitamin K2 supports the function of Vitamin D3 in bone health.

Getting Enough Vitamins

While the daily requirements for vitamins are relatively small — compared to our needs for protein, fat, and carbohydrates — not getting enough of them can lead to significant health problems over time. [3]

The best way to ensure that you’re getting an adequate amount of vitamins is to eat a diet that provides adequate calories for your needs and is made up of a variety of healthy foods.

This means eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), nuts, seeds, and lean proteins. Some people may benefit from the addition of supplemental vitamins as well.

Learn More: Why Are Vitamins Important For Your Body?

Maximizing Vitamin Absorption

The first step to getting enough vitamins in your diet is to include a variety of foods. However, there are some factors that can get in the way of your body’s ability to utilize all the nutrients consumed , such as your dietary choices, gut health, and whether you use medications.

Dietary Choices

The types of foods you’re eating and the way they are prepared can affect vitamin content and absorption. Choose nutrient-dense foods to get the most nutritional bang for your buck. For instance, minimally processed and whole foods will provide more nutrients per serving compared to ultra-processed foods, which generally contribute calories without much nutrition.

Furthermore, cooking methods that use water, like boiling and steaming, tend to reduce the overall amount of water-soluble vitamins that are left. [4]  Grilling or broiling meats may reduce nearly 40% of the B Vitamins and minerals they contain. [5] On the other hand, studies have found that microwaving helps retain water-soluble vitamins but may promote the loss of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin K. [6] Overall, it depends on the specific food and cooking method.

Additionally, pairing fat-soluble vitamins with healthy fat sources boosts their absorption in your body. For instance, if you’re hoping to get the most out of the Vitamin A from your sweet potato at dinner, consider adding a small amount of butter to it or including another source of fat in your meal, like peanut butter, avocado, or olive oil.

Gut Health

Beyond the foods you’re consuming, the health of your gut microbiome plays a big role in vitamin absorption. Your microbiome refers to the community of microbes living throughout your digestive tract that influence your health.

Healthy dietary habits are key to supporting your gut health. When your gut is happy, it’s better able to utilize  nutrients  properly. [7] Consume a diet that provides natural sources of probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are “good” bacteria that live in your gut or microbiome. Prebiotics are fibers that are "food" for the healthy bacteria that exist in your gut.

Fermented foods like tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi are great sources of probiotics. Find prebiotics in foods like Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, and onions. You can also consider a supplement like Nature Made Digestive Probiotics Ultra-Strength‡ Gummies that works with good bacteria naturally found in your gut to support healthy digestion.

Learn More: 8 Ways To Support Gut Health And Microbiome

Medications and Supplements

Certain types of medications can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and utilize certain vitamins. For instance, a central nervous system agent called levodopa may reduce the bioavailability of Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12. [8]

Proton Pump Inhibitors like omeprazole and lansoprazole, as well as Histamine H2 receptor antagonists like ranitidine and cimetidine, can neutralize your stomach acid to the degree that Vitamin B12 absorption is reduced. [9]

The weight loss medication Orlistat reduces the absorption of dietary fats and therefore reduces the absorption of the fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E, and K. [10] Additionally some anti-seizure medications may reduce the absorption of Vitamin D and Folate. [11]

It’s best to speak with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian regarding any medications you’re taking and how they might interfere with certain vitamins. They can help you pay extra attention to any potential vitamins of concern and make sure you’re getting enough.

Enhance Your Vitamin Absorption

Vitamins are intricately involved in your body’s everyday processes. Getting enough of them is essential for your overall health and wellness. Eating a vitamin-rich diet is key, with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean proteins. Consider your cooking methods and include a variety versus just one or two.

Incorporate healthy dietary fat sources into your regular meals to enhanced fat-soluble vitamin absorption. Consider an additional source of supplemental vitamins if needed. Finally, always consult your healthcare provider or registered dietitian for personalized vitamin intake and absorption advice.

Learn More About Vitamins


† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


References

  1. Reddy P, Jialal I. Biochemistry, Fat Soluble Vitamins. [Updated 2022 Sep 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534869/
  2. Lykstad J, Sharma S. Biochemistry, Water Soluble Vitamins. [Updated 2023 Mar 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538510/
  3. Table E3.1.A4. Nutritional goals for each age/sex group used in assessing adequacy of USDA Food Patterns at various calorie levels. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Appendix-E3-1-Table-A4.pdf
  4. Yuan GF, Sun B, Yuan J, Wang QM. Effects of different cooking methods on health-promoting compounds of broccoli. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2009;10(8):580-588. doi:10.1631/jzus.B0920051
  5. USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors, Release 6. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. December 2007. Available from: https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Data/retn/retn06.pdf
  6. Lee S, Choi Y, Jeong HS, Lee J, Sung J. Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables. Food Sci Biotechnol. 2017;27(2):333-342. Published 2017 Dec 12. doi:10.1007/s10068-017-0281-1
  7. Barone M, D'Amico F, Brigidi P, Turroni S. Gut microbiome-micronutrient interaction: The key to controlling the bioavailability of minerals and vitamins?. Biofactors. 2022;48(2):307-314. doi:10.1002/biof.1835
  8. Romagnolo A, Merola A, Artusi CA, Rizzone MG, Zibetti M, Lopiano L. Levodopa-Induced Neuropathy: A Systematic Review. Mov Disord Clin Pract. 2018;6(2):96-103. Published 2018 Nov 8. doi:10.1002/mdc3.12688
  9. Koyyada A. Long-term use of proton pump inhibitors as a risk factor for various adverse manifestations. Therapie. 2021;76(1):13-21. doi:10.1016/j.therap.2020.06.019
  10. Heck AM, Yanovski JA, Calis KA. Orlistat, a new lipase inhibitor for the management of obesity. Pharmacotherapy. 2000;20(3):270-279. doi:10.1592/phco.20.4.270.34882
  11. Bisi-Onyemaechi AI, Chikani UN, Uwaezuoke NA, Aronu AE, Ojinnaka NC. Serum folate levels in children on long-term anti-seizure medication in a Nigerian tertiary center-Implications for practice and public health. Sci Prog. 2021;104(4):368504211057680. doi:10.1177/00368504211057680

Authors

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

NatureMade Contributor

Lauren specializes in plant-based living and vegan and vegetarian diets for all ages. She also enjoys writing about parenting and a wide variety of health, environmental, and nutrition topics. Find her at www.laurenpanoff.com.

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Lynn M. Laboranti, RD

Science and Health Educator

Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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