Why Chelated Minerals are Not Created Equal


Once you’ve completed the step of learning about the difference between vitamins and minerals, and then made the jump in understanding that there is a difference between inorganic and organic minerals, you are ready to make a quantum leap to understand why organic chelated minerals are different.

This is where we must start to get scientific; after all, the word “chelate” is a very specific scientific word that has almost become trendy in the marketplace.  Certainly the word chelate is often misinterpreted and then, not surprisingly, misused.  Because of this, “chelate” is almost reaching the point of being genericised in reference to nutritional minerals.  This is why Albion Human Nutrition feels a strong and compelling need to help educate the industry and consumer regarding mineral chelates.

Technically, what is a chelate?

“Chelate” is a specific term identifying a type of bond between an inorganic mineral atom and an attached molecule structure referred to as a ligand.  As you learned in Vitamins, Minerals, Chelates: What’s the Difference, we know that the mineral portion of a chelate is an element and the attached organic ligand is a molecule.  When this ligand attaches to the mineral to form a new molecule, it must attach itself in two locations – not just one.  This is the broad basis of what a “chelate” is.  Now it starts to get fun.  Life itself is all about variation, and chelates are no different.

About Ligands

The definition of a chelate does not specify ligand type or size.  This is a very important fact to remember.  There are a host of molecules that can serve as a ligand.  Some possible ligands are so bad for the environment that they are controlled by strict regulation (see EDTA at the end of this article).  Others are so large they must be broken apart in order to be absorbed.  If the ligand must be broken apart to be absorbed, it is not much better than an inorganic mineral.  The ligand type will also give the resulting chelate different properties.  Ligand choice is a distinguishing feature of chelated mineral products.  See the illustration below of different types of ligands.

Here is a short list of ligand options:

  • Ethylenediamine Tetraacetic acid (EDTA)
  • Desferrioxamine
  • 1,10-Phenanthroline
  • 2,2′-Bipyridine
  • Dimercaprol
  • 2,3-Dimercapto-1-Propanesulfonic Acid (DMPS)
  • Dimercaptosuccinic Acid (DMSA)
  • Nitrilotriacetate (NTA)
  • Tris(2-aminoethyl)amine
  • Glycine Amino Acid

About Ligand Size

We are now starting to see how many differences there can be in mineral chelates.  From the host of ligands available on the market, let us limit our ligand selection to just one type for illustrative purposes: Glycine.

Glycine is an amino acid that can be in a long chain of atoms, specifically oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen.  Ligand size, sometimes called chain length, is a key factor involved in having a chelated mineral that can be absorbed at a highly efficient rate.  Ligand molecule size together with the attached mineral atom makes a combined size.  This combined size is important because some molecules can become larger than the size of the cell it is supposed to be absorbed into.

It makes just sense that if the chelated molecule is too large to go into the cell, the only way it can be absorbed is if it hangs around long enough to be broken down in the digestive process.  If the “chelate” is present long enough to be broken down, it has a chance to be absorbed, but is little better than an inorganic form of mineral.  A larger size substantially lowers the effectiveness of the chelate since the ligand must be broken so the body can re-chelate the mineral for absorption.  Chances are the larger chelate will be passed through the digestive system without absorption taking place at all.

Chelate molecule size, as determined by the choice of ligand used and the process used to create the specific chelate, is a second distinguishing feature between chelates in the marketplace.

The Manufacturing Process

Manufacturing a properly chelated mineral for high efficiency absorption is not an easy process.  As you have seen, there are variations in chelates based on ligand choices before we even get to the manufacturing stage.  Now the question is, what manufacturing process does a manufacturer use?

Different processes in the industry are used to claim chelation and possible product outcomes.

  • Spray drying a liquid formulation. This is the process used by Albion; it is an expensive process, requiring large, sophisticated equipment and it yields a highly controlled, precise product.  Variation in this process can be monitored and controlled.  The product is ‘flash dried’ at a specific moment in the reaction process, yielding a “fully reacted” end product with a guaranteed mineral content range.
  • Air drying of a slurry formulation. This process is common, as it is cheap, but it yields a variable result.  As the slurry air dries, the reaction process may or may not be complete.
  • Dry mixing/blending of ligand and mineral. The result of this process is unreacted, unchelated material.  Both the agent and mineral are dry blended in a machine resembling a cement mixer.  The manufacturer claims the final chelation process will occur in the digestive process naturally.
  • A combination of the above. Some manufacturers will combine method C with B to bring the mineral content up to the levels the manufacturer is claiming.  The end result is some level of chelation, possibly, with high levels of inorganic mineral (unreacted mineral) present.

How can all chelates be created equal if there are so many different options? It’s understandable how these different processes, whether patented or not, can produce a completely different product.  Is the mineral product bonded or attached in two places by the ligand (fully reacted)?

We all know variation can occur from one batch of products to the next no matter how carefully controlled a process is.  This is why regulators require batch numbers in almost all food, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products.  Now add a claim of chelation with totally different manufacturing processes and environments to the equation.  Do you think there is a difference?

The choice of manufacturing process to create the specific chelate is a third distinguishing feature between chelates in the marketplace.

With this much variation in the manufacturing process, is it any wonder why some products are cheap? As a distributor supplying quality product to your valued customers, do you know what you are getting? A genericised, trendy buzz word or a genuine, effective, organic chelated mineral that is fully reacted? A manufacturer may claim a percentage of mineral content in a product but can they claim a “fully reacted” mineral content and offer indisputable proof? Albion can!

Why Albion Chelates?

Albion is a science and research based company.  At the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Albion has conducted clinical studies showing that its raw material selection and manufacturing process is 100% proven to form effective, absorbable chelates.  Given the possibilities in process variation, do you think another company could use someone else’s clinical studies and research to prove their process and their product? Can they further use those clinical studies to prove that their product is fully reacted or even whether an effective chelation process has taken place? Of course not.

It is to the advantage of some industry manufactures to genericise the word mineral “chelate.” It gives consumers a false understanding of what a “chelate” is and implies that there is no difference between one the company’s claim to a fully reacted chelate and the next?

Through precise manufacturing processes, carefully controlled conditions, and carefully monitored state-of-the-art facilities, a 100% proven, fully reacted mineral chelate can be created.  This process is unique, not only for the type of manufacturing process, but for each specific nutritional mineral being chelated.  This is why Albion has acquired over 100 patents to date on chelation-related manufacturing processes.  Albion is so confident its chelated products are the highest quality that we stand behind them all the way to your shelf.

Albion’s Gold Medallion Program

We are willing to put our name on the label of products conforming to our strict guidelines.  This assures you, the customer, of getting a fully reacted, fully effective mineral chelate.  If you are paying a premium for a mineral chelate, you want assurances it is a real chelate, 100% proven effective.  If you want traceability; proof, and 100% effectiveness, you want ALBION.  Look for the Albion Gold Medallion seal on your packages.

A further note about reading clinical studies on chelated minerals

If a study is done on a specific type of chelated mineral’s performance, it is important to know which company manufactured the chelated mineral.  As shown here, all chelates are not created equal.  It is not enough for a study to simply claim that it used a chelated mineral.  It is important that a chelated mineral analysis be done prior to its inclusion in the study to truly validate the results.  As shown here, all mineral chelates are not fully reacted chelates.  An accurate study should list the manufacturer of the chelate used or present factual test results on the chelates’ reacted status.

There have been studies done for a comparative analysis between a ‘generic’ chelated mineral and an inorganic mineral.  Some results show very little difference between the ‘chelated’ mineral and the inorganic mineral.  The question then becomes, what quality of chelated mineral are they testing? Whose mineral are they testing?

We hope this helps you in becoming a better informed-consumer.  Knowledge is a tool for making better decisions and better choices.  Through knowledge you can gain better health.


A chelate has two parts:

  1.   Mineral
  2.   Ligand (not all ligands are the same)
    • Ligand is organic
    • Ligand can be a host of molecules, including some not suitable for a healthy environment
    • Ligand must be joined in two places
    • Ligand must be a suitable size conducive to absorption

Manufacturing Processes Differ:

  1.   What process or processes are used?
  2.   What ligand is used?
  3.   Can they guarantee molecule size is small enough for absorption?
  4.   Do they guarantee a fully reacted product and how do they guarantee it?
  5.   Do they offer scientific proof of chelation?

There Is a Difference

  1.   With all these variables, it seems logical that all chelates are not created equal
  2.   Are you sure you’re getting a 100% proven, fully reacted, chelated mineral?
  3.   Do they give you mineral content but don’t specify whether it is all chelated mineral?
  4.   Do they put their name on the package, and is there traceability for the chelate you’re buying?
  5.   Is there scientific proof of chelation?
  6.   Do they have clinical studies on their product or have they applied someone else’s studies?