Supplements in Tablet, Capsule or Liquid Form: Which is Best?

One of the most common questions I’m asked is whether it’s best to take a supplement in a tablet, capsule or liquid. The Supplementstruth is that the form the supplement was made probably will not affect its absorption in someone with a healthy digestive tract. The importance of taking the most easily absorbed and digested supplement is increased for those with a digestive disorder.

Before I discuss the different forms of supplements, let’s chat a little bit about supplements in general. My preference is to use supplements which are sourced from food. These are often referred to as “whole food” supplements. These supplements use food – usually a fruit or vegetable – as the source of the nutrient(s) they contain. Even though the supplement is sourced from food, it is important to note that whole food supplements are still fermented and processed.

The best source of nutrients is always organic foods. My belief is that supplements should only be used to correct deficiencies, provide large amounts of a specific nutrient to correct an imbalance, or to receive nutrients which are difficult to obtain from food. (Vitamin D is one example of a nutrient that is difficult to obtain in high amounts from food.) Supplements also sometimes provide nutrients in a more concentrated form than is available from food, which may be necessary to help the body reverse physical challenges. A simple example is that a medium orange contains approximately 70 mg of Vitamin C. This means someone who has been advised to take 5000 mg of Vitamin C daily would need to eat 71 oranges per day to achieve that amount of Vitamin C. That is obviously not practical. The bottom line is that taking handfuls of pills every day is never healthy. Supplements should only be used when needed and many should only be used on the advice of a trained professional.

The most important facets of selecting a supplement include how pure the ingredients are and how well the supplement will be absorbed. Please only use supplements which do not contain a lot of fillers, artificial ingredients, artificial sweeteners or high amounts of sugar. Always read the “Other Ingredients” section of the label to identify what additional non-therapeutic ingredients were used to make the supplement.

Absorption is important. If the supplement cannot or will not be absorbed, the person taking it will receive no benefit from taking it. Digestive disorders are the primary cause of malabsorption. but the form the supplement is in can sometimes affect absorption. The adage, “You are what you eat,” needs to be changed to, “You are what you absorb.”

When discussing absorption, let me also say that seeing a change in urine color does NOT always mean the supplement is not being absorbed. Some nutrients, such as Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), create brightly colored waste material when they are metabolized and absorbed. Having neon yellow urine after taking a B vitamin is actually a very good sign the vitamin was indeed absorbed and well metabolized. On the other side of the spectrum, seeing whole tablets in one’s stools means the supplement was not well digested or absorbed. For more information on healthy digestion, please read Top Six Ways to Maximize Digestion.

The table that follows provides an overview of the pros and cons of the various forms of supplements:

Supplement Form Advantages Disadvantages
Liquid/Powder mixed with water
  • Very easily absorbed. Some nutrients may be partially absorbed while in the mouth and stomach.
  • Are typically more expensive.
  • Powders may be a bit inconvenient.
  • Liquids may need to be refrigerated.
  • May contain sugars or artificial sweeteners. Read labels carefully.
Softgel
  •  Easily absorbed, but not as easily absorbed as a liquid. Most softgels take 10-20 minutes to dissolve.
  • Easy to take and transport.
  • The ingredients used to make the softgel case may include toxic chemicals.
  • Typically more expensive.
  • The oil used inside the softgel may be non-organic GMO soy.
  • Often become soft and sticky and may burst in hot conditions.
Capsule
  • More rapidly digested and absorbed than a tablet, but slower than a liquid. (Typically takes about 10-20 minutes for the capsule to dissolve and release the contents.)
  • Easy to take and transport.
  • Usually very inexpensive.
  • The ingredients used to make the capsule may include toxic chemicals.
  • Most capsules contain “fillers,” some of which may be undesirable. Many fillers are solely used so the supplement powder easily flowd through the manufacturing equipment. Try to find capsules that do not include fillers.
Chewable Tablets
  • Easy to take.
  • May be more easily absorbed than tablets.
  • Most taste great.
  • Easy to take and transport.
  • The ingredients used to make the chewable may include toxic chemicals.
  • Most chewables contain sugars or artificial sweeteners. Read labels carefully.
  • Higher risk of overdose if children or pets are in the home.
  • Usually higher priced than other forms.
Tablets or Pills
  • Usually the least expensive option. 
  • Easy to take and transport.
  •  Longest time to digest and absorb of any form.
  • “Time release” tablets may never completely dissolve, meaning most of the supplement will wind up in the toilet.
  • Higher choking risk.
  • Most tablets are made up of fillers which may include undesirable ingredients.
  • Tablets have to be heat-treated to be formed. Heat treatment may lessen the potency of some nutrients.

My preference when recommending a supplement is to choose the liquid form first, then a capsule, then a tablet. I try to avoid tablets completely, but that is not always possible. 

What’s your favorite form of supplement? Did any of this information surprise you?

 

References:

How Many Milligrams of Vitamin C are in Oranges?

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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2 Responses to Supplements in Tablet, Capsule or Liquid Form: Which is Best?

  1. Melody says:

    thank you for your great information . I’m using tablets multivitamins which is whole food, but recently one of my friend introduced JUCE PLUS to me which is comes in capsule form . Please Please help me is JUICE PLUS really help compare with other supplements? Anyway they said JUICE PLUS is not supplement it’s nutrient . Definitely I’ll switch to capsule regarding your great information but still I’m confused which vitamin really help me . Thank you again .

    • All I can say is that I’m not a fan of that supplement. It’s grossly overpriced to pay the downlines. Many of the terms they use are marketing hype. By the FDA definition, it is indeed a supplement. Nothing against those who are earning a living by selling it, it’s just not one I choose to recommend.

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