Dear Mark: Better Nutrient Forms

MultivitaminsDear Mark,

What’s the story about certain kinds of vitamin C, calcium, etc.? Does it make any difference?

Because we live in a more complicated, modern world with chronic stress, pollution, etc., I always suggest wise supplementation for optimum health. The best supplementation is effectively comprehensive, properly balanced, and efficiently bioavailable. Some forms of some nutrients are simply more readily absorbed than others. Additionally, some forms of certain nutrients are easier on the digestive system than others, particularly in those with stomach sensitivity.

When it comes to food, you want the best your money can buy, and the same thing goes for supplementation. Different supplements (we’ll stick with “multivitamins” for now) fulfill their nutritional claims differently. Some forms of certain nutrients, generally the more bioavailable and stomach-friendly forms, are more expensive than less bioavailable or harsher forms.

In response to this and other questions I’ve been getting lately, I thought I’d throw out a mini-primer highlighting some of the most common and important contrasts in nutrient forms. I’ll call it a “not this, but that” list of recommendations for key nutrients.

Vitamin A

The bulk of a supplements vitamin A sources should be beta-carotene and other mixed carotenoids rather than retinol or retinoic acid (which is pure vitamin A). In addition to beta-carotene, other important carotenoids include alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene.

Vitamin B

The key with any of the B vitamins is balance. B vitamins are a family of vitamins and should be taken as a balanced “complex.” Too often, physicians prescribe individual B vitamins for given circumstances (i.e. B6 for birth control pill users, or B12 for vegetarians or those on acid reducing medications). A good supplement will offer the full B Complex for optimum benefit. Look for “p5p” form of B6 and the “methylcobalamin” form of B12.

Vitamin C

Many versions of vitamin C are non-buffered. Non-buffered forms are acidic and can result (especially in larger doses and for the more sensitive among us) in upset stomach, cramping or diarrhea. Buffered forms of vitamin C, like calcium ascorbate or ascorbyl palmitate, offer optimal balance and absorption.

Vitamin D

Whereas many supplements contain vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), the most bioavailable form for humans is D3 (choleciferol), the form produced by the body with natural sun exposure.

Vitamin E

Avoid synthetic versions, which are often preceded by “dl-“ as in “dl-alpha-tocopherol”. A quality supplement will offer a natural blend of mixed tocopherols (with gamma tocopherol being identified as a predominant form) and, ideally, mixed tocotrienols. The natural blend benefits both digestion and absorption.


Particularly for those with digestive issues, calcium citrate is an easily absorbed, bioavailable form. Look for it as a primary source of calcium in a supplement.


An essential nutrient for heart health and energy production, I recommend avoiding the synthetic “D” form of carnitine. Choose the natural L-Carnitine form instead.


Both chromium picolinate and chromium niacinate offer solid benefit for blood sugar regulation, but some research shows that chromium niacinate offers more of an edge in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.


You really get what you pay for with CoQ10. Cheaper, synthetic forms are sub-optimal and sometimes made from impure sources. CoQ10 in its natural form is more expensive but more beneficial to the body.

Other nutrients/additions worth paying extra for in a supplement: DMAE, Vinpocetine, Gingko Biloba, Resveratrol, Grapeseed Extract, Bilberry, Tomato Extract, and Green Tea Extract. We will be doing extended reviews of these nutrients in future posts.

Thanks, as always, for your questions.

twenty questions Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Mulling Multivitamins

Not Enough B-6?

Vitamin D and RDA for Children

More on Omega

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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