Vitamin dosage vs. vitamin absorption

C Saw

Absorption of vitamins vitamin C and stress the key element in the “medicine of the future”the effect of vitamin C on your body’s enzyme systemsthe vitamin you should reduce before surgery and increase immediately after

While that might sound like enough topics for a full week of e-Alerts, it’s actually a list of the highlights that are jam packed into today’s e-Alert when HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., fields vitamin questions sent in by HSI members.

Not exactly like a sponge 

The amount of vitamins you take is not necessarily the amount of vitamins your body ends up absorbing and ultimately putting to use. That’s the idea behind this question from a member named Frederick:

“One very important thing you have yet to address is the issue of vitamin dosage vs. vitamin absorption. For example, are we being dosed with 3000 mg of C in order to get 30 mg absorbed into our cells. The C or any vitamin that is not a ‘FOOD’ is not easily recognized nor is it easily absorbed by the body. Any thoughts?”

Absolutely, Frederick. You can be sure that when the subject is vitamins – and vitamin C in particular – Dr. Spreen will have something insightful to offer:

“Some of the big vitamin C advocates actually consider vitamin C a ‘food’ and not exactly a vitamin, but that’s obviously controversial. It’s certainly established that needs for it go way up during times of stress, so just how much is needed is not a set number even for the same person. It gets complicated in a hurry.

“Absorption is the key to everything. How much you swallow means very (VERY) little. Dr. Jonathan Wright was informed by a patient who was a septic tank cleaner that many septic tanks of ‘pill-poppers’ have layers of pills at the bottom, a clear example of taking something that went on through and was never absorbed.

“In my opinion the medicine of the future will be highly tailored around enzymes, utilized purely for optimizing the absorption of the nutrients we’re eating, whether as foods or supplements.”

Dr. Spreen offered a postscript to his answer for Frederick, noting that the issue of vitamin absorption becomes even more complicated when (in Dr. Spreen’s words), “you consider that there are, for example, both water-soluble and fat-soluble forms of vitamin C – where ascorbic acid (water-soluble) may not reach a desirable site in the body when ascorbyl palmitate (fat-soluble) might get in easily.”

To overcome these potential absorption problems, Dr. Spreen tries to give the body what he calls “luxuriant amounts” of nutrients (which he believes it can handle in high doses, as opposed to drugs), and hopes the body gets what it needs.

Enzymes up! 

A member named Melody has another very different concern about vitamins, wondering what the consequences are of discontinuing:

“I am taking dietary supplements of vitamins, minerals and herbs and am just a bit concerned about what happens if for some reason I cannot take them. (Cost could be an issue.) If your body is used to having 400iu of Vit E for instance, which is not available in such quantity in our food, would I be at a disadvantage to someone not taking supplements? Would I have to gradually reduce them?”

Noting that it’s impossible to supply a “black-and-white” answer to Melody’s question, Dr. Spreen responds:

“It can be an issue depending upon what vitamins are being taken. In the case of vitamin E (and most others) everything’s on the up side: you take it and it provides a health ‘insurance policy’ – you don’t, then it doesn’t. You just miss any possible benefits.

“In the case of vitamin C something neat happens. Assuming you take enough (RDA amounts won’t do it), high doses of vitamin C ‘awaken’ dormant enzyme systems that can utilize the additional doses of the nutrient. Over a period of time they get used to having the higher dose and ‘jack up’ to accommodate. (This counters the argument from anti-vitamin types that avoiding scurvy is the only value to vitamin C.)”

The Cand the knife 

According to Dr. Spreen, the problem that Melody and others may face by discontinuing gram-type doses of vitamin C is that the body uses up what’s left very quickly, creating a potential deficit. Therefore, he recommends a gradual tapering off if they wish to quit, and then offers this example of a good reason to discontinue high dosages of vitamin C:

“Before surgery I deliberately suggest this to people, as high-dose C is very detoxifying and many times I’ve had patients tell me that their anesthesiologist was surprised at how much medication was required to knock them out. This happened to a friend of mine and my sister-in-law, both of whom tapered before a subsequent surgical procedure. RIGHT after surgery, of course, I’d strongly suggest getting back on the Cit is a major component of collagen, the number one repair protein in the body, just what you’d need after being ‘knifed.’

“The water is also muddied by the fact that many people have differing needs for each of the B-complex vitamins. The RDA amount may be fine for B-1, say, while their personal enzyme systems need 100 times that amount of B-3 for the two to even out in the body. Finding just what these amounts are in each of us is really tough, which is why I usually overdo all of them as my ‘insurance policy.’

“Herbs are a whole different bag of worms. Some are nutritional while some have pharmacologic (drug-like) effects. Heck, where do you think drug companies got their ideas? It wasn’t from sheer brilliance – it was from observing the effects of age-old herbal remedies and playing patented copy-cat. These items need to addressed on an individual basis.

“So, usually you can cut down nutrients without difficulty. When in doubt taper down before stopping, or better yet, talk with an experienced nutritional doctor.”

Discussing vitamin absorption with a nutritional doctor would be good advice for Frederick and others as well. The questions he has could probably be more specifically answered by a qualified medical expert who would (ideally) be aware of his medical history, current health issues, dietary concerns, etc., which might all come into play in determining how efficiently his vitamins are absorbed.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute