Candy Supplements

April 20, 2012 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Walk down the supplement isles of most health food stores and pharmacies and you’ll undoubtedly see bottles that are seemingly filled with enticing candies. These days, calcium, fish oil, multivitamins and other dietary aids are often being sold in the form of chocolates, gummy bears and even jelly beans. Some of these products are 100% natural – after all, corn syrup and glucose are natural. Others are loaded with the same types of artificial ingredients you’d expect to find in conventional candy. The one common denominator is the attempt to popularize supplement use in segments of the population that don’t normally buy them.

Candy-like multivitamins are now being marketed more aggressively than ever before to everyone from bariatric surgery patients to pregnant women. And, of course, children are still considered a prime demographic for sweet supplements of every conceivable kind. That’s probably why I’m frequently asked whether chewables are equivalent or superior to encapsulated or tableted supplements. On the surface you’d think this issue is a matter of common sense. How can something formulated to taste like candy support health to the same degree as boring and sometimes unpleasant smelling/tasting pills? But, sure enough, there are those who imply or make that precise claim. In the vast majority of cases, that inference and/or proclamation is completely inaccurate.

I’m unaware of any independent study showing that chewable supplements are superior to other delivery forms. There’s some research that indicates that chewable minerals (calcium and iron in particular) and vitamins are satisfactory ways of addressing nutritional needs. However, the claim that chewing pills improves absorption or otherwise enhances the effects of dietary supplements is not supported by any scientific studies I’ve come across. What’s more, most candy-like supplements tend to contain much smaller amounts of essential nutrients than their encapsulated or tableted counterparts. The reason for this is simple: many fatty acids, minerals and vitamins don’t taste very good. So, there’s a relatively low threshold for candy-vitamin makers if they hope to produce a flavorful end product.

Although rare, some chewable supplements are more bioavailable than conventional pills. Let’s say that you want to take a calcium supplement. Selecting a chewable that contains a highly soluble form of calcium, such as calcium citrate, is probably better than swallowing tablets containing a less bioavailable form of the mineral, such as calcium carbonate. The same may be true with select nutraceuticals, including CoQ10. Some reputable manufacturers have invested significant money and time into unique, chewable CoQ10 formulations that have been clinically documented as more absorbable than conventional pills. Unfortunately, this caveat only applies to a very small percentage of chewable products currently on the market.

Ultimately, I do think it’s better for some people to use chewable supplements rather than none at all – provided that the products in question aren’t loaded with artificial additives and sugar. Certain chewables, available primarily in health food stores, opt for natural coloring agents (beet juice, carotenoids, chlorophyll) and sugar-free sweeteners (inulin, monk fruit, stevia) which aren’t harmful. If this is the only way someone will take a supplement, so be it. But, I’ve found that there’s almost always a way to incorporate healthier versions of supplementation into the regimens of even the most finicky and/or sensitive individuals. It sometimes requires some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort as evidenced by improved health and lab test results.

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Bariatric Surgery: How and Why to Supplement (link)

Study 2 - Antioxidant Status of Young Children: Response to an Antioxidant (link)

Study 3 - Nutritional Supplement Attenuates Selected Oxidative Stress (link)

Study 4 - Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of Calcium-Vitamin D3(link)

Study 5 - Calcium Supplementation for 2 Years Improves Bone Mineral (link)

Study 6 – Comparative Absorption of Calcium from Carbonate Tablets (link)

Study 7 - Multiple-Dose Pharmacokinetics and Bioequivalence of L-Carnitine (link)

Study 8 - Iron Absorption from Chewable Vitamins with Iron Versus Iron (link)

Study 9 - Ascorbic Acid Absorption in Humans: A Comparison Among Several (link)

Study 10 - Plasma Coenzyme Q10 Response to Oral Ingestion of Coenzyme Q10 … (link)

The Relative Bioavailability of Different Forms of Calcium

Source: J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2005 Jun;313(3):1217-22. (link)

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Posted in Children's Health, Food and Drink, Nutritional Supplements

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