The efficient absorption of nutrients is vital. Someone
could eat as many fruits and vegetables, or take as many supplements and health
foods as they could manage, but if they weren't absorbing the nutrients contained
in them, there would be no point. One particular area of interest is the absorption
of minerals especially when consumed in supplemental form.
In nature minerals have either a positive or negative
charge, and therefore they are usually bound to another chemical to make them
neutral. For example calcium can be found in many forms such as calcium carbonate,
calcium chloride and calcium oxide. These forms of calcium are usually described
as calcium salts (in the same way that sodium becomes a 'salt' when bound to
chloride which forms common table salt). Many other minerals can exist as salt
forms and it is this type of mineral that is found in many nutritional supplements.
However, supplements of a high quality will not contain
minerals in their salt forms, but will contain minerals in what is known as
Amino Acid Chelated (AAC) forms. This type of mineral is superior to
the salt form as it is more easily absorbed into the bloodstream through
the intestinal wall.
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Amino Acid Chelation (The Science Bit!)
Amino acids are the building blocks of every protein
molecule and protein structure, such as muscle. If a protein molecule were a
house, then the amino acids would be the bricks! The combining of minerals to
amino acids not only improves the absorption of minerals but also reduces the
irritation which some nutrients, such as iron, can cause to the intestinal tract.
When minerals enter the small intestine as a salt form,
such as magnesium carbonate, the molecule will split into two smaller molecules
of magnesium and carbon. These two molecules are then electrically charged,
either positively or negatively, which renders them difficult to absorb as the
charged molecule will stick to what ever it can find to become neutral again.
If it is allowed to stick to the wall of the small intestine, it not only will
be difficult to absorb, but it will also cause irritation. Also, once absorbed
into the bloodstream the magnesium needs to be bound to a specific protein because
it can't just float around in the blood by itself! Therefore, the body has to
work before the mineral can be used.
By consuming a mineral which is amino acid chelated,
it would mean that the mineral is connected to specific amino acids, so it will
not split as easily in the stomach, as do the salt forms, which reduces the
risk of gastrointestinal upset. The mineral/amino acid complex would also be
electrically neutral (neither positive nor negative), which means easy absorption,
and is already bound to protein so the body can use it instantly.
Many minerals compete for absorption. For example, high
levels of zinc can reduce the amount of iron that is absorbed and vice versa.
This is because all minerals are absorbed through the same pores, or gates,
in the small intestine which are called channel ions. As there are a limited
number of these pores in the intestinal cell wall, you can imagine that the
queue to get through could be quite long and if you were an iron mineral trying
to compete against ten zinc minerals, your chances of absorption are reduced.
Minerals, which are chelated with amino acids, do not
compete with each other which means that high consumption of one mineral, such
as iron, will not cause low absorption of another mineral, such as zinc. This
is because the body will recognise the amino acids and not the minerals, and
these are usually absorbed by a different mechanism. Therefore, the body is
absorbing minerals in a supplement in the same way that they would absorb minerals
present in foods, which are usually bound to protein molecules such as the minerals
found in meat. It's rather like putting an iron molecule into a balloon made
from amino acids, which then bursts once inside the body and releases the mineral
for the body to use.
Chelating minerals to amino acids is a relatively simple
and natural process. Digestive enzymes are used to break down large protein
molecules, derived from rice, into the individual amino acids which forms an
amino acid 'soup'. The minerals are then added to this soup and the natural
reaction of chelation occurs with no other chemicals needing to be added. The
minerals will move around in the soup until they have found the correct types
and amounts of amino acids to bind to.
Consuming minerals in this form will also protect them
from other compounds that can prevent their absorption. Such compounds are called
phytates, which are found in fibre, tannins, which are found in tea, and oxalates,
which are found in foods such as spinach. These molecules would usually be able
to bind to minerals and force them to be excreted. However, the bond between
minerals and amino acids is so strong that AAC minerals would not be affected
by these molecules and therefore would be free to pass into the blood stream.
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