Although the human body has the ability to create chelated minerals in the digestive process, the process isn’t very efficient. Scientific research has found that very specific chelated minerals have a drastic effect on mineral uptake by the body.
However, not all chelates are created equal. Some chelated minerals are more bioavailable than others.
Before understanding what sets some chelated minerals apart, readers must understand what a chelate is. By definition, a chelate is a chemical compound in which a metal molecule (mineral) and an organic molecule (ligand) are combined. The ligand is a critical component of a chelate that actually transforms the previously inorganic molecule into an organic mineral form, thus making it more bioavailable to the body. The resulting molecule is characterized by a ring structure, with the ligand attached at both ends to the mineral. Variations of the chelate structure can include one, two, or three ligands, with each “end” attached to the mineral at two places.
The organic ligand molecule can consist of amino acids, hydrolyzed protein chains (usually from soy), sugars, or other compounds that may or may not offer absorptive value to the human body. It is not the ligand’s nutritive value that is key to a chelated mineral but rather the ligand’s mechanism of making the mineral more biologically effective than its inorganic counterpart.
Cost often determines the choice of ligand used in manufacturing. Glucose and hydrolyzed soy proteins are very cheap; hydrolyzed proteins are available in an assortment of unidentified protein chains. Some are too large and not as stable in the digestive process.
By comparison, glycine is a very small and precise amino acid molecule that makes a very stable chelate. These factors make a glycine chelate superior. Unfortunately, the cost of this single amino acid is quite high because of the level of sophistication required to manufacture it.
As organic mineral forms become more abundant in the consumer market, it’s important to understand why some chelated minerals have advantages over other chelated and organic mineral forms. As we’ll discuss ahead, the difference usually comes down to the type of ligand.
The ligand component of a chelate has a direct influence on the mechanism of making the mineral more biologically effective. Depending on the specific type, a ligand will vary in its natural ability to “hold” (chemical bond between atoms) a mineral in this chelate “ring” structure. Some ligands create weak chelate structures that break apart in the digestive process, resulting in the mineral’s release and thus reverting back to an inorganic form.
Depending on its size, a ligand also varies in its ability to be picked up intact (with the mineral) as a protein and pulled directly into the receptive cell within the intestine. Large, random ligands like the ones present in hydrolyzed soy proteins are too big to be picked up by intestinal receptors as an intact chelate structure. The large structure must be broken down to be absorbed, resulting in the mineral being disassociated from the ligand during digestion, voiding the bioavailability advantage of a chelated mineral. A gluconate chelate (utilizing a glucose molecule) has the same issue.
By contrast, a small ligand like glycine bonds to the mineral and creates a complete chelated molecule small enough to be picked by protein receptors in the digestive process—a key factor for increased mineral bioavailability.
Extensive clinical research and laboratory studies have shown that the amino acid glycine is the ideal size and type of ligand.1 Glycine is an amino acid the human body produces naturally as a building block for larger protein chains.
A 2:1 ratio of glycine-to-mineral is the most nutritionally beneficial mineral chelate form, known as a mineral bisglycinate chelate. There are three factors that make a bisglycinate chelate uniquely more biologically effective: 1) the double ligand ratio protects the mineral as it passes through the stomach’s digestive process, 2) the combined molecule is less than 500 Daltons in size, which is small enough to be absorbed by protein receptors in the intestinal tract intact. The mineral and ligand are then separated by metabolic processes and used by the body, and 3) the molecule is neutral in charge, keeping it from interacting with food and drug content during digestion.
Creating a 2:1 ratio is extremely difficult, however. Highly refined chelation technology is required to create this very specific, fully reacted molecular structure. In addition, the process depends on when the chemical reaction is stopped to achieve optimal results. The reacted solution must be “flash-dried” at a very specific moment. The best method of doing this uses extremely large driers to spray-dry the batch in a specific window of time. The resulting product batch is then tested against an established “fingerprint,” or profile, at the molecular level to validate that it was dried at the optimal time in the reaction process to affirm its chelate structure.
Considering all the factors required to create a bisglycinate chelate, it is important for a company’s brand of chelated mineral to be supported by scientific research, which should ideally include both sponsored and independent studies covering specific aspects of tolerability, effectiveness, structure stability, and drug interactions.
How the Body Absorbs Bisglycinate Chelates
Why does the human body more readily absorb bisglycinate chelates? Because a bisglycinate chelate is an organic mineral form, the body deals with it in a totally different way than it does inorganic mineral forms.
First, let’s take a look at how the body absorbs inorganic mineral forms. The digestive tract is lined with specific receptors that will take up inorganic mineral atoms. Unfortunately, many different minerals compete for these receptors for transport, so most inorganic minerals never get absorbed. For instance, due to competition over receptors, there can be issues with taking certain inorganic minerals at the same time as prescription medications. When iron or calcium disassociate, for example, they naturally carry an ionic charge, attracting them like a magnet to opposite charged particles such as food or medication molecules; as a result, both become ineffective and pass through without being absorbed.
Additionally, once inorganic mineral forms such as oxides, sulfides, and carbonates get into the acidic stomach environment, the mineral is disassociated. When the inorganic mineral form comes into contact with the stomach’s mucosal wall, however, it can cause unpleasant side effects and irritation.
By contrast, organic bisglycinate chelates do not have these undesirable effects because of their neutral charge, bond strength, and the size of ligand they’re associated with. Bisglycinate chelates are designed to have a neutral charge, allowing them to travel freely in the digestion process to be picked up at specific receptor sites for ultimate nutritional benefit.
The Bottom Line
In evaluating nutritional options, it is important to select a brand of chelate that can be trusted. Product quality, clinical research, proof of ligand used, and proof of chelation are a few of the criteria that should be included in finding a trusted mineral source.
Steps: How to Make a Bisglycinate Chelate
- Start out with quality raw materials from reputable sources. Raw ingredients must go through quality control verification prior to being released for manufacturing.
- Select a quality ligand that has specific advantages when consumed.
- Use highly refined chelation technology to bring all the ingredients together in a highly controlled environment.
- Employ proven manufacturing processes that ensure the highest level of chelation reaction between the mineral and ligand. At the peak window of the chelation process, the reaction is flash-frozen in time by a spray-drying process that gets rid of moisture and preserves the mineral/ligand molecule structure.
- Every batch then must be validated as to its molecular structure by infrared spectroscopy to ensure that a true chelate bond is made between the ligand and nutritional mineral component.
- Lastly, it is important for the chelated mineral to be backed by research. This includes not only sponsored research but independent, third-party research done on the specific brand of chelated mineral. The manufacturing process makes all the difference between brands of chelated minerals. It’s not enough for a brand to tout a “me too” science approach because processing can vary from batch to batch, let alone from one company to the next.
- Ferrari P et al. “Treatment of mild non-chemotherapy-induced iron deficiency anemia in cancer patients: comparison between oral ferrous bisglycinate chelate and ferrous sulfate.” Biomed Pharmacotherapy, vol. 66, no. 6 (September 2012): 414-418