Chelated Supplements: The What and The Why

A common piece of wisdom about supplementation goes: “You can only use what you absorb.” That means it’s not about how much you swallow, but how much of what you ingest survives the trip through the hostile environment of your digestive system. 

Some nutrients (i.e. zinc, copper, manganese, and chromium) are notoriously difficult to absorb, which brings us to the concept of chelation (pronounced key-lay-shun). Chelation is a process in which minerals, many of which are infamously hard to absorb, are chemically bonded to one or more amino acids which creates a much more absorbable and metabolized compound. This process not only increases the amount of the valuable nutrient that is absorbed, but also improves tolerability and decreases potential gastrointestinal distress. 

You may not realize it, but some minerals actually battle it out to see who will be absorbed into the body. Take zinc for example. Zinc is known to actually block iron from being absorbed but because chelation renders the mineral ionically neutral, that’s no longer a concern.

Chelated minerals have been used for years with impressive results in animal care and veterinary science. Human studies are not quite as plentiful, but some evidence shows that chelated minerals are absorbed and tolerated better than other forms. For instance, a study of healthy female subjects who took supplemental zinc showed that those who took the chelated form of zinc absorbed 43 percent more of the valuable nutrient than those who took the non-chelated version. Another study showed that healthy subjects who took chelated minerals experienced improved cardiovascular performance in both sprints and longer endurance-based tests. 

Further studies on the benefits of chelated minerals in humans are necessary to explore the full potential. For instance, some smaller experiments have come to interesting conclusions, such as the fact that chelated minerals have been shown to improve mood stabilization in people who live with bipolar disorder. In the next few years, it will be interesting to discover more benefits of this highly bioavailable form of mineral supplementation.