Supplement Forms: Is One Form of Vitamin or Supplement Better Than Another?

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Image of supplement forms; does the type of pill make a difference, difference tablet capsule softgelA point of differentiation often seen in vitamin and supplement advertisements is the supplements being touted in a particular form-liquid, chewable, gummy, tablet, softgel or capsule. So, what are all the various supplement forms, and is one form of supplements superior to another? Let’s start with a glossary of the most common supplement forms.

Tablets

Typically disk or cylinder shaped the raw material of vitamins and supplements are compressed into a solid substance. Tablets allow the most material or product to be packed into a given space. They are also incredibly shelf stable, and retain their potency longer than other supplement forms. Unless the bottle says otherwise, it is safe to crush or cut the tablet into smaller pieces as necessary. Tablets are the most common form of supplements.

Chewable Tablets

Chewable tablets are designed specifically to be chewed. Vitamins, especially minerals, taste pretty awful, so chewable vitamins contain either natural or artificial sweeteners (or a combination of natural and artificial) to make the product as palatable as possible. Because of taste, chewable vitamins often contain significantly lower levels of ingredients than what is found in a typical “tablet” type product as most consumers expect a chewable tablet to taste good. For some ingredients, it’s pretty simple to mask their taste, but for others, like iron and other minerals and fish oils, it’s pretty difficult. The benefit of chewable products is they are terrific for children and adults who have difficulty or simply cannot swallow pills. The downfall of chewable vitamins is often their high levels of sugar, and lower level levels of vitamins and minerals.

Extended Release Tablets and Capsules

Extended release tablets and capsules, also known as prolonged release, sustained release or time release tablets and capsules, are designed so that the vitamin or supplement is enclosed in a micro-encapsulation that allows the ingredient to be released over an extended period of time, rather than all at once. For example, the Cooper Complete® Prolonged Release Melatonin delivers melatonin over a six to eight hour period. Extended release supplements (and prescription medications for that matter) should not be crushed or chewed as doing so disrupts the timed delivery of the product.

Capsules

Widely used in supplements, capsules are gelatin pieces that fit together to hold dry ingredients. Capsules typically come in a classical cylindrical shape. Traditionally, gelatin capsules were made exclusively from bovine or porcine skin and bones. In recent years, technology has made it possible to create capsules from fish, chicken and even vegetable matter. Many people find capsules easier to swallow than tablets. The two-piece construction of capsules prevents oil based ingredients and liquids from going into a capsule. A drawback to capsules is that they have major space issues, and a capsule that is overfilled often breaks. Basic One, our one-tablet-a-day multivitamin, would likely require three or four capsules to deliver the same level of supplementation.

Softgels

A softgel looks similar to a capsule, but consists of a gelatin based shell surrounding a liquid fill. The gelatin softgel protects the ingredients from oxidation and product degradation, and if the softgel is opaque, also protects against light and UV radiation. As with capsules, the gelatin can come from a variety of sources. Softgels are often easier to swallow than tablets, and are the first choice for oils or other liquid ingredients. Softgels are the choice for ingredients susceptible to spoilage from air or light. By their nature softgels hermetically seal the contents to protect against air, and opaque softgels protect fragile ingredients from light. The manufacturing process of softgels is complex and is both science and craft as there are different softgel thickness or hardness, and getting the softgel “just right” for a particular product or set of ingredients can to tricky.

Liquids

As it sounds, liquid vitamins and supplements are suspended in a water or alcohol-based liquid so the product can be swallowed without chewing. Liquids are a terrific choice for individuals who have difficulty swallowing pills. The shelf life of liquid products is typically shorter than that of other supplement forms, and once a bottle is opened it often must be used quickly.

Gummies

Just like candy gummy products, the foundation of gummy supplements is sugar, gelatin, and corn starch, to which vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements are added. Like liquid supplements, gummies are marketed to children and adults who dislike or cannot swallow “pill” forms of supplements, or for those who simply want a tasty treat along with their supplement. In order to maintain that pleasant taste, the level of supplementation may be quite low, and a serving of two gummies typically has about 15 calories.

Supplement Forms: Which is Superior?

So which supplement forms are superior? While there’s definitely discussion and significant nutritional differences between an orange and orange juice, there’s really no argument that the body absorbs the orange or orange juice differently. Absorption time is different, but certainly not absorption itself! Yet, “absorption time” is a big deal to some supplement marketers even though the difference between the quickest time (seconds) and the longest time (minutes, if we exclude time released products), is pretty inconsequential. The individual who takes aspirin for a headache may really appreciate headache relief in a few minutes versus 20 minutes with a softgel or tablet. However, when taking a multivitamin, omega-3 fatty acids, or most other dietary supplements, it honestly doesn’t make a bit of difference.

Researchers at The Cooper Institute looked at the blood samples from individuals following six months of multivitamin supplementation with Original Cooper Complete (in tablet form) and found that the vitamin concentrations changed dramatically.

  • Folic Acid increased 47%
  • Beta Carotene increased 51%
  • Vitamin B12 increased 55%
  • Vitamin C increased 69%
  • Vitamin E increased 97%
  • Vitamin B6 increased 272%

So which form of a supplement is optimal? There’s really not a single answer to this question, and Cooper Complete has at least one product within each of these forms. Science shows that all of these forms are absorbed by the body. So don’t be swayed by marketing hype. Buy what you prefer, and what you’ll consistently take.

Article provided by Jill Turner, President, Cooper Healthy Living.

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