DEAR DR. BLONZ: I'm taking a dietary supplement that contains OPCs along with vitamins, minerals and herbs in an isotonic form. It is purportedly a more efficient delivery system, as it goes through the stomach and right to the small intestine, allowing for close to 95 percent absorption (since it's not diluted by stomach acid). Also, this speeds up the nutrients' entry into the circulatory system, occurring within five to 15 minutes, as opposed to the average four hours that a typical pill or capsule takes. What are your thoughts on this? -- G.C. San Diego
DEAR G.C.: Wow! Your descriptive statements certainly provide a supplement of puffery. They seem to be taken directly from promotional product literature. It is unclear whether there is any substantiation for these claims, or what extra benefits you stand to gain by taking such a product.
Ninety-five percent absorption for all nutrients? That's doubtful. The degree to which a nutrient is absorbed depends on the individual nutrient and a number of additional factors, including whether there is a deficiency (or an excess) of it in the body and in the diet. With many nutrients, only a small fraction gets absorbed even under the best of conditions.
You say your supplement's delivery system is "purportedly more efficient," but I would be interested to see any evidence supporting this claim. Pills, capsules or powders work just fine. As a rule, it's usually best to take vitamin and mineral supplements at mealtime. Digestion and absorption are designed to get the good stuff out of our foods by keeping the mass of food churning and in contact with the absorptive surfaces for an extended period of time.
For those interested, OPC is an abbreviation for "oligomeric proanthocyanidins." These are naturally occurring bioflavonoids found in grape seeds and skin, pine bark extract and other plants. They have been shown to perform as effective antioxidants and are currently being investigated for their role in protecting against chronic disease. But no one antioxidant can carry the entire load.
As with other lessons from nature, always consider the context in which the substance occurs. A whole food may contain a superstar nutrient with particular biochemical abilities, but it also contains a symphony of healthful components perfected over time to work together with that star. It is of questionable value to rely on a supplement without also having a healthful overall diet and lifestyle.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I read with interest your article on the "milk effect" of putting tea in milk. It triggered this question of mine: Does adding half-and-half or milk to coffee also blunt coffee's antioxidant prowess? -- J.H.
DEAR J.H.: Great question. The phytochemicals in the coffee bean are a different family of compounds. They come from the bean (seed) portion, not the leaf, as with tea. They are not affected the same way.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.