Liquid Supplements vs. Pills: Which One is Better?
The field of medicine is constantly introducing new ways for us to heal our ailments. Taking supplements in pill form has always been popular. Now, liquid supplements – like zinc and elderberry drops – are the newest arrival on the scene.
Supplements come with a variety of benefits regardless of what kind you take. But is one better than the other when it comes to promoting better health? Read on to find out if liquid supplements or pills are right for you.
Most likely, the supplement shelf at your local drugstore used to be rows and rows of packages housing pills, tablets, and chewable vitamins. Nowadays, you will also find bottles of liquid supplements mixed in.
Like pills, liquid supplements are taken orally. They typically come with a dropper that allows you to dispense the liquid right on your tongue – but some may also come with a small cup attached to the lid that can be used to drink your daily dose.
Liquid supplements may be newer than their pill counterparts, but there is plenty of systematic evidence to support their use.
One major reason why you may choose a liquid supplement over taking a pill is the rate of absorption. Our bodies absorb liquids faster and better than capsules or tablets. In fact, the Physician’s Desk Reference states that as much as 90 percent of the nutrients in liquid supplements are absorbed in as little as 22 seconds.
We can break down liquids faster than pills, making their contents more bioavailable. The term “bioavailable” refers to how efficiently our body can utilize the nutrients in a food or supplement we consume. Because the breakdown process is simpler and requires less energy for liquids than for solids, liquid vitamins are more readily available for the body to absorb.
In many ways, liquid supplements are also more practical than pills or tablets. For patients who need to take large amounts of a supplement – for example, to correct a deficiency – taking more of a liquid supplement may be easier than taking several pills or tablets per day.
Some patients, including young children and the elderly, have trouble swallowing large pills. Liquid forms are more palatable for these patients. Children’s liquid supplements may even be flavored to make them more exciting for kids to take.
There is one caveat to using liquid supplements: they do not last as long. Capsules and tablets do have a longer shelf life. However, this is often due to the addition of preservatives, which may do more harm to the body than good. Liquid supplements are purer, containing fewer additives in addition to the desired supplement.
Especially in elderly patients, liquid supplements may also get in the way of eating a balanced diet. Because liquid supplements increase satiety in older patients (though not younger ones), they might prevent them from eating properly sized meals. However, studies show that taking liquid supplements between meals improves energy intake among elderly patients, rectifying this slight problem.
Supplements sold as pills, capsules, or tablets have been used for years, and may be easier to find than liquid supplements. However, evidence shows that it might be worth searching for a liquid supplement.
Solids are necessarily broken down more slowly than liquids by the body. It takes as long as 30 minutes for the body to break down a capsule or tablet, before the body even begins to absorb the nutrients it contains. Once broken down, the body may use as little as 39 percent of the vitamins or minerals in a pill supplement.
It’s true that certain types of supplements – for example, B vitamins and magnesium – are better absorbed slowly over the course of the day, especially if rapid absorption comes with negative side effects. In these cases, solid supplements may be preferable to liquid ones. Yet in many cases, vitamins and minerals cannot be absorbed as efficiently via pills or tablets.
Pills can present a barrier to taking supplements in some patients. Young children or the elderly may have difficulty swallowing much-needed supplements in their solid form. The unfortunate result may be that they avoid taking the supplement because it is uncomfortable or, in some cases, impossible for them to take.
While pills last longer than liquid supplements on the shelf, this is often attributable to the addition of preservatives. Because supplements are not required to disclose their ingredients, pill manufacturers can add synthetic substances to their products that may be harmful to your health. Liquid supplements contain fewer ingredients and are often more transparent about their contents.
Which is Better?
Liquid supplements and pills offer a wide variety of benefits when used in our daily lives. Because of their convenience and rapid absorption, liquid supplements may be a better option for many patients. However, there are some cases when your doctor may recommend a slower-absorbing pill supplement. Of course, it is incredibly important to always follow your doctor’s directions when it comes to taking supplements in pill or liquid form. Ultimately, a healthcare provider is best equipped to assess your individual health and recommend the right supplement for you.
Bhogal, R. (2019, April 26). Are liquid vitamins better than pills? DaVinci Laboratories. https://blog.davincilabs.com/blog/are-liquid-vitamins-better-than-pills
Medicare Europe (2020, August 11). Science and Clinical Data. Medicare Europe. https://bit.ly/2PGPeii
Wilson et. al. (2002). Effect of liquid dietary supplements on energy intake in the elderly. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75(5). https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/75.5.944