If you’re living a health-conscious, active lifestyle, you’ve likely considered taking (or are currently taking) supplements at some point. But even the most health-savvy consumers can be overwhelmed by options. There are the old-school oral formulations, but with an increase in medical spas, you can now take supplements through IV, transdermal, spray, even chewing gum. Selecting the right delivery method is a personal choice, but keep in mind that the amount you receive and the speed at which you receive it depends on which one you choose.
Let’s explore each of the most popular vitamin supplement delivery methods and which might be best for you.
The Oral Route
Traditionally, people take vitamins and supplements via an oral pill. It’s as easy as washing down your nutrients with a swig of water, coffee, or your herbal tea. The oral route is likely the most common option because it’s the tried and true method. Once you establish a routine, taking your vitamins can be as simple as brushing your teeth. Unfortunately, this method isn’t always effective. Pills sometimes don’t dissolve enough to get it into your system before they are passed out of the body. Physicians have reported seeing intact vitamins on scans. Despite all the time, energy, and money you spend choosing and taking oral vitamins, you could literally be flushing all of it down the toilet.
The second issue with oral formulations is their bioavailability. Broadly speaking, a nutrient’s bioavailability is the proportion that’s absorbed and dispersed throughout the body. A nutrient’s bioavailability may be governed by both internal and external factors. For example, external factors may include the age of the vitamin or its chemical structure. Internal factors may include your age, gender, and even pregnancy, which is why there are different recommendations for different people.
The bioavailability of a capsule will depend on the formulation itself, but generally speaking, oral capsules tend to be less bioavailable than other formulations. In fact, your body only gets to use about 20% of what it takes in with oral formulations.
Medical spas are offering intravenous nutrients more often, which tend to have a higher bioavailability than oral capsules because they hit the bloodstream directly, ensuring you receive as much of the supplement as possible. Depending on where you look, you can get an IV cocktail for the flu, fatigue, even a hangover.
There isn’t much peer-reviewed research on the efficacy of these formulations, but one thing is for certain: They carry a hefty price tag. A single dose of Vitamin C could run you as much as $99 a session, which makes sense when you consider that it’s one of the most effective methods of delivery.
Transdermal Patches and Creams
Some types of vitamins and supplements are available in creams and transdermal patches. These are more common in fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins D and E, but can sometimes be found in water soluble vitamins like vitamin C, as well. A randomized, controlled trial of 50 women recently found that topical vitamin D was efficacious in treating their nutrient deficiencies.
To work as a transdermal formulation, vitamins must have a low molecular weight and a low required daily dose. Possible disadvantages include a slower rate of absorption compared to other routes, as well as differences in absorption due to skin thickness. Although topical patches and creams are often preferred due to their convenience and ease of use. You can stick a patch—some of which are 100% natural—on a virtually hairless part of your body and wear it for up to 8 hours.
Lastly, we have liposomal routes. Liposomal, or emulsion, technology has long been used in medicine to more effectively administer medications. Using this route, a given nutrient is broken down into tiny particles and wrapped in a protective layer of fat. Using this technology, nutrients can bypass the 20% loss from digestion and absorb directly into your tissues, promoting wellness at a cellular level.
Liposomal formulations have proven in trials to be more efficacious than oral formulations, particularly when it comes to vitamin C. This is due to their superior bioavailability. Like IV formulations, they allow the body to readily absorb and use nutrients, but they are significantly less expensive.
The bioavailability and effectiveness of a given nutrient will depend on a number of internal and external factors. The molecular weight and dose of a nutrient will affect the way it can be administered. The effectiveness of a particular vitamin or supplement may also depend on your age, weight, gender, or medical history. Talk to your health practitioner before beginning any supplements.