Minerals, by-and-large, are a misunderstood component of the nutritional-needs equation for many consumers. When we say “mineral nutrition,” most assume that this is in reference to vitamins. While a mineral may be at the core of a vitamin such as cyanocobalamin (vitamin B-12), this is a rarity.
Minerals are a small but necessary supplement (or ingredient) occupying their own class. Some of the confusion over minerals relates to the numerous forms of minerals in general. There are organic forms, inorganic forms, oxides, sulfates, citrates, carbonates, and chelates. For many consumers, it’s difficult to determine which mineral form offers optimal characteristics for maximum biological utilization.
Making minerals easier to absorb
Minerals such as oxides, sulfates, and carbonates are often in an inorganic state and must be converted into an organic form during the digestive process before they can be readily absorbed. While the body has a natural process for converting inorganic minerals into organic forms, it is inefficient. Mineral absorption can also be affected by a variety of factors, such as pH, stomach contents, and the presence of bonding materials.
Inorganic minerals will dissociate into ions in the acidic stomach. These carry a charge and are attracted to other charged stomach constituents, such as fibers and fats, which can sequester the charged mineral, making it harder for the body to absorb and use. Because of this, the inorganic mineral will often pass through the digestive tract with only a tiny fraction being absorbed. Even though the RDI of the supplement may be consumed, only a fraction of the dose will be utilized.
Inorganic minerals must be converted into stable organic forms that the body can more easily absorb in order to raise the overall effectiveness of the mineral supplement. This primary conversion process is called chelation. Through this process, a metal is bonded to an organic ligand (such as amino acids) to protect the mineral and optimize its absorption and utilization by the body. Further, the pre-bonded structure of chelated minerals facilitates their transport to the absorptive cells in the digestive tract and reduces competition with other minerals at these transport sites.
Making minerals easier to tolerate
When inorganic minerals enter the stomach, the acidic environment ionizes the mineral, dissociating it from its inorganic component. A dissociated mineral ion can easily irritate the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing GI distress and unpleasant side effects such as nausea, constipation or diarrhea. Inorganic iron forms are famous for the severe reactions they sometimes cause.
Chelated minerals are designed to protect the mineral and minimize dissociation in the stomach, which improves tolerability and reduces gastric irritation.
Making minerals stable, less reactive
A mineral needs to be protected from dissociation in the GI system so it will not adversely react with other components there. Additionally, it must not interact with or degrade other nutritional components, such as vitamins, before or after being ingested. Such interactions can destroy taste profiles and the nutritional value of the supplement or food. Inorganic minerals can be easily ionized in the gut, supplement or food. When the mineral is ionized, it is more likely to start interacting.
A high-quality chelated mineral is bound to a specific ligand, which protects the mineral from being ionized, resulting in a more stable, less reactive mineral form.
Making minerals safer than inorganic minerals
All minerals can be toxic when consumed at unhealthy levels. Mineral toxicity is most often expressed as GI distress and can include nausea, constipation, diarrhea or vomiting. Severe cases of mineral toxicity may require medical treatment; the most severe cases of mineral toxicity have resulted in death. The margin of safety between beneficial and toxic mineral levels can be quite narrow for inorganic mineral ions. Extensive research has been done on mineral bisglycinate chelates, including tests designed to evaluate the margin of safety. The margin of safety for the chelated form is often substantially greater than that for comparative inorganic minerals.
High quality standards are necessary
Producing a better mineral requires following the highest industry standards in production. Ideally, the minerals are free from genetically modified content, restricted animal proteins, food contaminants and allergens (mollusks, lupines, gluten, celery, mustard, etc.), and meet or exceed heavy-metal requirements. This not only applies to finished product but right through to the entire raw-material-acquisition process.
Selection of raw materials is critical to ensure the correct components are used to create the mineral amino-acid chelate. The amino acid used should be one that is small enough that when combined with the mineral it can still be kept intact when absorbed across the cell wall at GI transport sites. The amino acid should be one the body knows, identifies, and can use when the chelate is broken apart during the cellular metabolic processes. Glycine is an expensive amino acid but it is also one of the best to fit these requirements.
The final step in the process of “building a better mineral” is to have clinical studies, both sponsored and independent, to verify its effectiveness. As industry manufacturing processes and the selection of amino acids may differ, both can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the final chelated mineral.
Ida Baghoomian is senior public relations counsel for Albion. You can watch a video about Albion’s process for making six-stage chelateshere (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJ5Nx0JIMCQ&feature=player_embedded).
Salt Lake City has been and remains a hotbed of mineral sourcing, especially with chelates. We caught up with Bruce Sherman, CEO of Chelated Minerals Internationa, and Gameil Fouad, PhD, president of Biotron Labs, to dig into the minerals realm.
FI: Studies show higher safety and tolerability with chelates compared to traditional minerals. What other points of differentiation do chelates have over traditional mineral sources?
BS: The importance of chelates is they remain intact through digestion until they are prepared to cross the gut wall. The mineral/mineral antagonism is well-documented as well as oxidation reduction reaction of certain vitamins with inorganic minerals. Chelates, if they remain intact, do not ionize in digestion and therefore avoid these problems with traditional minerals.
GF: In addition to demonstrating improved tolerability, we've just completed a randomized cross-over design clinical trial demonstrating improved absorption. The bottom line is a fully reacted, properly prepared chelate will be better absorbed and better tolerated. While we have not yet quantified other favorable properties in rigorous trials, other subjective benefits seem to accrue to mineral chelates, such as improvements in taste (where that's an issue) in chewables or drinks as well as stability advantages. Biotron's approach uses a full range of amino acids, including branched chain and essential amino acids - which make our materials nutritionally more complete - certainly more so than inorganic mineral sources.
FI: Despite these advantages, does the presumed higher price point make it a tougher sell to manufacturers and marketers?
BS: Price is always a consideration, but the market and particularly the end user’s knowledge of the value and greater bioavailability of chelates versus inorganic minerals continues to grow. Our mission remains, as the original patent holder for manufacture of chelates, to educate our market with science, to clarify which of the more bioavailable minerals should be the product of choice. We believe our unique science-based technology and trademarked products will upgrade the market demand for fully reacted chelated minerals.
GF: Broadly speaking, a supplement containing calcium carbonate, for example, is difficult to differentiate from the next such product. Place that product next to a chelate, however, and it's easier to draw a distinction that will resonate in the mind of a motivated and information-seeking consumer.