Supplements and Herbs

Bioavailability of minerals

On the science behind “live” and “dead” minerals

by Elena Berezetsky, © 2004, published by Healing Cancer Naturally with permission

When hearing "live minerals," a scientist well-versed in chemistry may immediately conclude that the person using the term has no understanding of science whatsoever. "Minerals are minerals," he or she will explain, "they cannot be live or dead, they are what they are — minerals. It doesn't matter whether they come from a plant or a lab. Calcium is still calcium, iodine is still iodine." So... which reasoning is flawed?

Here's the good news: it may well be that, unbeknownst to them, both parties are in fact right rather than wrong. At least part of the disagreement between those who "believe in live minerals" and those who are offering a scientific warranty of the impossibility of such a phenomenon may be due to terminological discrepancies, not necessarily "incompatible positions."

Let me give a try to some interpretations of what people on both sides of the scientific fence might actually mean when they use certain "questionable" terms.

I think what people are occasionally trying to say (perhaps not always with enough scientific backing for the opinion, sometimes going on a piece of "bad science" and sometimes, just on a "gut feeling") when they say "live minerals" — is that essential nutrients are something that becomes bioavailable (i.e., can be transformed from a "chemical" into a functioning constituent of the active live organism — i.e. become a live functioning part of a bone, a heart, a brain, a bloodstream) only when certain specific conditions for their proper absorption are met.

And even though "live minerals" may grate on the ear of a chemistry-savvy scholar of science, while "there's no such thing as live minerals" may sound as out of tune as a chain saw to a scholar of nature, they both may find some common ground in the fact that the actual phenomenon behind the "suspicious" wording is backed up by some "good" science as well. Here's what I mean:

There's evidence that many (possibly all) essential nutrients become bioavailable for this purpose (i.e., for the purpose of turning into a live functioning part of "you" after you have eaten them) with much higher efficiency when they are ingested as part of a natural substance in which they occur alongside thousands of other natural substances, rather than alone in their pure chemical form.

This has been scientifically proven for many essential nutrients. (References available upon request.)

What makes them "live" in this scenario is not some mysterious forces, spirits or "unproven" mystical energies but, rather, their interactions with other metabolic players, their ability to "behave a certain way" in the human body when they are ingested as part of certain complex synergistic environments (and, for instance, a piece of seaweed is just such an environment for iodine, unlike a bottle of Lugol's.)

Those natural and exceedingly complex synergistic environments is what the human body has been evolutionally fine-tuned to recognize and process so as to make the best of those minerals, vitamins, oils, amino acids, sugars, and so on. That's bioavailability, a different story from what a mineral "is" or "has" in a test tube — a story of what it actually "does" in the live body.

And there's things these minerals simply aren't equipped to do when taken out of their synergistic context, out of their natural environments and administered in "pure" form.

Without many of those co-factors, team players in the game of bioavailability, synergists, enhancers or inhibitors of the rate of absorption, emulsifiers, chelators, and so on, both the ones known to science and the ones unknown to science (e.g., the vast majority of alkaloids, both known and unknown to science, are unique to a plant they occur in, and for those that have been "already discovered" by science, only a fraction of a percentage of their action has been scientifically studied, and a smaller still fraction understood) — without those synergists a chemically pure mineral (or any other substance) will indeed, in many cases, behave in the human body as though it is "dead," or at least seriously wounded.

Here's a few (proven by "good" science ;-) ) examples of what I mean:

Synthetic vitamin C, albeit chemically identical to natural vitamin C, does not cure SCURVY in ANY amounts. Scurvy, the very disease after which "ascorbic" acid has been named, only responds to vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, not from the lab!

The thinking of those scientists who want an explanation for this proven fact must obviously turn to biophysics to understand even this one substance's true "fate" in the human body, since biochemistry sheds no light whatsoever on this phenomenon.

Calcium: won't absorb as a calcium supplement. That's because it needs both fat and fat-soluble vitamins to become bioavailable. So "no-fat" dairy, e.g., is the second surest way to clog one's kidneys with insoluble calcium, "second" only to taking a supplement with a glass of water, that is...

None of the calcium ingested in this manner will make it to the bones, or anywhere else it's needed.

But a cup of cottage cheese from whole (no fat removed!) and otherwise unmolested milk will deliver the kind of "live," so to speak, calcium that will do its job.

It's "live" because fat and fat-soluble vitamins (and who knows what else!) in a substance where all of them occur together in proportions and amounts that are specific, as part of "natural solvents" that are specific — all of these factors "enliven" this otherwise "severely wounded" (for purposes of bioavailability) calcium, and it gets a chance to become part of the live human body upon ingestion, rather than clog some organ or other with its dead weight.

Iodine: yes, painting it on the skin will work, taking it as a supplement will work, but taking it as part of a piece of seaweed will work better. Iodine is easy to overdose in pure form, and an overdose will cause cellular edema, skin rashes (reportedly very stubborn), and increase one's susceptibility to infections and inflammations.

None of this will happen with seaweed, however, which has, among other things, a natural form of MSG (sic!) — a completely safe form of MSG, unlike its neurotoxic "pure" chemical counterpart! — that will protect the tissues from the "side effects" of pure iodine.

The list goes on and on. The point I'm trying to make is that aiming to get an essential nutrient from a natural source seems to be a worthwhile strategy in many cases.

Of course if it is a designer substance aimed at attacking a specific disease, or if it is a "natural substance in an unnatural amount" (the latter scenario is, e.g., part of orthomolecular medicine's approach to using megadoses of vitamins, free-form amino acids, and so on as medicinal substances rather than as nutrients) — if, in other words, what we're after is a "drug," and one that exhibits effects in the human body we want it to exhibit and not too many unknown or unwanted or downright terrible "side effects" in addition to those, and one unavailable from natural sources, that's a different story.

But for anything that is an essential nutrient, something our bodies are competent in handling a certain specific way in certain specific combinations better than any other way, going to the natural source seems to be a better deal all around, whether we call this strategy the suspiciously new-agey-sounding "live minerals" (I'm not all that crazy about this way to put it either, but I believe the actual in-vivo meaning behind this clumsy verbal label is pretty sound), or a tad more respectable (to a scientist) "bioavailability," or the humbling (to most scientists) "biophysics" — or simply a lay person's (with powers of observation and common sense) "gut feeling!" ;-)

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About the author

Elena Berezetsky, who was a technical/science writer in Russia before coming to the USA, first began learning folk and naturopathic healing, in an empirical hands-on fashion, from her grandmother and aunt, who in their turn had learned from four generations of practitioners before them.

Reclaiming this knowledge and reviving the tradition, Elena further expanded her interest in natural healing to include traditional Chinese medicine, herbal, nutritional, "energetic," and numerous other natural healing traditions and modalities from around the world (Ayurvedic to Siberian to Native American to European to Japanese), as well as their modern applications and "incarnations."

She had a freelance relationship with the former Center for the Study of Natural Oncology (CSNO) and has been working on a number of research projects, including an array of little-known traditional Russian methods of natural health support in serious illness.

Notes by Healing Cancer Naturally

Bioavailability of foods, medications, supplements can be increased in a number of ways for instance by

  • chewing foods very well: the first step to proper digestion (and a healing factor in its own right - one of the (at least) eight foundational health habits to follow
  • optimising the digestion: from proper stomach acid levels to digestive enzymes
  • cleansing the digestive tract and mucosa
  • dissolving remedies in your mouth: this way they can directly enter the circulation via the lymph vessels (the same should apply to minuscule fractions of thoroughly chewed food)
  • cayenne pepper
  • microclustered water reportedly increases the absorption rate of items such as medications, supplements etc.The micro-clustered (=smaller molecular) structure of the water apparently allows nutrients etc. to be more readily absorbed. For details see The Kangen™ Water Alkalizer/Ionizer (expensive).

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