Bioavailability is a big buzz word in natural medicine these days.
Basically, it describes how well your body absorbs an ingredient — whether a supplement or drug — from your GI tract into your bloodstream.
And we now know some forms of dietary supplements don’t have great bioavailability. In other words, not much of the ingredient makes it from the GI tract into the bloodstream.
So, nutritional supplement companies now spend a lot more time and energy engineering more bioavailable forms of their ingredients — which ups the manufacturing and retail costs of these dietary supplements.
As the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. And some new evidence suggests that bioavailability isn’t the be-all, end-all of a nutrient’s effectiveness in the body.
Understanding the importance of the microbiome
Evidence shows many botanical nutrients (and drugs) act by influencing the microbiome. (Your microbiome is the environment in your GI tract where trillions of healthy bacteria live and help protect you from deadly infections and diseases.)
Furthermore, we also now know that some of those nutrients lacking in bioavailability can still have powerful effects in your microbiome. As it turns out, some of these limited-bioavailability nutrients exert important influences directly within the GI tract before they are ever absorbed into the bloodstream.
For example, polyphenols — some of the active ingredients in botanicals — generally have low bioavailability. In fact, only about 10 percent of polyphenols make it into the bloodstream from the GI tract. However, their influence on your gut flora within the GI tract is powerful.
In a 2015 study, 244 participants who took a blend of polyphenols from herbal remedies improved intestinal comfort associated with gastroenteritis — including bloating, diarrhea, and gas. In other words, the polyphenols worked directly in the GI tract to provide relief…and it didn’t matter if they never made it to the bloodstream.
Another recent study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found a strong relationship among foods and botanicals rich in polyphenol flavonoids, the microbiome, and increased effectiveness of the immune system. Of course, the GI tract houses more immune cells than any other part of the body. So, in essence, this finding makes a lot of sense.
Elderberry is another botanical that illustrates the shortcomings of the bioavailability argument. Research shows that although elderberry may have limited absorption into the bloodstream, it contains key flavonoids, which trigger the microbiome to produce desaminotyrosine (DAT). And DAT has been found to protect against influenza viruses.
Anecdotal evidence supports this science, as taking elderberry helps prevent colds and flus. It also shortens their duration and severity.
So, all the recent concern about limited bioavailability may be somewhat unnecessary. After all, researchers observed the many health benefits for these herbal ingredients in clinical studies decades before they began studying the ingredients’ bioavailability — and whether or not they make it into the bloodstream. And if newer research shows they only make it into the bloodstream in limited amounts, then they must work by some other mechanism of action.
In my view, if it works…it works — regardless of whether or not it’s absorbed by the gut or through the bloodstream. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The same case can be made for the first-line Type II diabetes drug treatment…
Metformin fosters a healthy microbiome
As I often report, metformin is the first-line Type II diabetes drug. It derives from the European folk remedy French lilac, which may help explain why it behaves like a botanical in the body.
In fact, as I reported last September, the latest research shows metformin helps foster a healthy microbiome. It essentially works as a sugar blocker in the gut, preventing the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
(By comparison, insulin and insulin-like drugs do indeed force excess sugar from the blood — but it then needs somewhere to go, which is into your tissues. And you don’t really want extra sugar in your tissue cells either if you can help it.)
This sugar-blocking action also explains why metformin prevents all the dangerous complications of Type II diabetes. It also explains why the drug helps extend longevity as well as reduce the risk of cancer (since cancer cells use sugar as fuel) and other chronic diseases (since sugar causes inflammation, which drives most disease).
What does it mean for you?
We now know about the importance of building and maintaining a healthy microbiome. And it may lead you to wonder about taking a probiotic supplement, which typically contain different strains of bacteria, depending on the brand.
My answer may surprise you. No, you don’t need probiotic pills. The problem with them — as I’ve always said — is that more times than not, they just don’t work.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Your gut does need healthy probiotic bacteria. But, science shows that taking a probiotic supplement isn’t the best choice.
Instead, follow these five simple tips for naturally supporting your microbiome:
- Avoid antibiotics, which wipe out the healthy bacteria found in your microbiome.
- Avoid antibacterial soaps and gels, which disrupt your skin’s microbiome.
- Eat foods that can introduce and/or support healthy bacteria in your gut, such as plain yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, Korean kim chi, soy sauce, and fish sauce.
- Eat foods that nurture your gut flora, including artichokes, barley, beans, green, leafy vegetables, and steel-cut oats. They naturally support the growth of good bacteria already present in your GI tract.
- Avoid processed foods and sugary foods, which disrupt the good bacteria in your gut.
By following the simple steps outlined above, your microbiome will be better equipped to utilize the nutrients from your supplements and foods — regardless of bioavailability. You’ll really feel a true difference with the head-to-toe benefits a healthy microbiome provides.
“Studies drill down on how elderberry ingredient provides immune support via microbial reaction in gut,” Nutraingredients (www.nutraingredients-usa.com) 1/29/2018