Are Your Vitamins Harmful to Your Health?
Synthetic Vitamins versus Natural Vitamins
© 2015 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Many doctors will attest that a daily vitamin intake is essential to a healthy lifestyle. However, not all vitamin supplements are created equal. The inexpensive supplement that you pick up in the grocery store aisle could be less helpful than you think, as many contain synthetic ingredients.
Synthetic vitamins are created from man-made materials, allowing them to be sold at a lower cost. Sometimes, though, companies put harmful materials into their “vitamins” as binding agents. Higher quality vitamins come from natural whole-food sources such as fruits and vegetables.
Studies show that the natural vitamins provide a better source of nutrients than synthetic vitamins, as they are better absorbed by your body, allowing you to reap greater benefits.
While there is typically no better source for your daily vitamins than the foods themselves, supplemental vitamins perform an essential role in your body’s composition. Speaking to your doctor about the benefits of natural vitamins versus synthetic varieties will be beneficial to your overall health and happiness; here’s a primer to get you up to speed on some important distinctions.
The “Science” Behind Synthetic Vitamins
According to the United States Pharmacopeia, products that look similar under the microscope can be marketed as the same item, regardless of what the products are actually made from. Some companies see this as a way to cut costs of production -- if they can make the “same” product from cheaper materials, they will do it.
That way, their products can sell for a lower cost, giving their company an edge in the heavily saturated supplement market.
Because nutrients found in fruits and vegetables are chemicals at their most basic form, similar substances can easily be reproduced in a laboratory. These isolated vitamins, though, lack much of the benefit that the natural vitamins possess.
Therefore, companies have to fill each pill with more of the isolated vitamin. To bond the particles together, the companies must also rely on man-made products. Unfortunately, some of these ingredients are counter-productive when it comes to your health. Elements like tar, rocks, and animal byproducts are used as fillers.
Your body does not produce these substances, so these foreign elements act as harmful agents within your system. For example, these are some sources for synthetic vitamins:
- Vitamin B-12 is made from activated sewage sludge
- Vitamin C is made from acid
- Vitamin D is made from irradiated oil
The Effects of Synthetic Vitamins
Most notably, your liver suffers irreversible damage while it tries to filter the harmful products from the helpful ones. Unnatural agents such as ground-up shells and metal will quickly destroy your liver. Also, women who take synthetic vitamin A while pregnant can have children who suffer from birth defects. Another popular synthetic women’s vitamin had trace amounts of lead in each pill. Because the lead would not properly digest in your body, it would create a dangerous and toxic buildup over time.
These are some of the specific chemical fillers that are commonly found in all kinds of synthetic vitamin supplements:
- Carnauba Wax: found in car wax and shoe polish
- Titanium Dioxide: a possible carcinogen, a substance that causes cancer
Even if the effects are not deadly, synthetic vitamins don’t work as well as the natural supplements. While testing both synthetic and natural forms of vitamin E in women, a group of researchers found that the women using the synthetic vitamin needed three times more to achieve the same beneficial effects as the women who ingested the natural form.
The researchers also tested synthetic and natural vitamin E in cancer patients. One patient who took a half-dosage of the natural supplement for a year had twice as much vitamin E than the patient who took the synthetic form for two years. So even though the companies pack more of the isolated vitamins into their pills, the high dosages are misleading because a smaller amount of the natural form still works faster and more effectively.
How are Natural, Whole-Food Vitamins Made?
Natural vitamins, also known as whole-food vitamins, are extracted from the fruits and vegetables that they are naturally found in. These foods are some of many that contain the essential vitamins and nutrients that your body needs:
- Grapefruit (Vitamin C)
- Spinach (Vitamin A and Vitamin C)
- Wheat (Vitamin B1 and Fiber)
- Milk (Calcium)
- Potatoes (Vitamin C and Potassium)
Scientists break down these foods to extract the necessary vitamins, enzymes, and other helpful compounds that work in your body. After ingesting these natural supplements, your body experiences virtually the same effect as if you had eaten the food itself. All of the same ingredients are present, so your body still receives the proper nutrition.
Because natural vitamin supplements are only made from natural sources, there are no foreign fillers in the pills. Your body will not be exposed to any additives like petroleum, so there will be no harmful buildup of potentially harmful agents.
How to Determine if Your Vitamins are Synthetic or Natural
The ingredient label will tell you if your vitamin uses synthetic or natural products. Look for these specific chemicals in the type of supplement; these are a few man-made fillers that your body cannot properly absorb and digest:
- In Vitamin A: Acetate and Palmitate
- In Folic Acid: Pteroylglutamic Acid
- In Biotin: d-Biotin
- In Vitamin C: Ascorbic Acid
It’s always best to speak with your doctor about any questions or concerns that you might have about your vitamin intake. Your doctor will help you determine the healthiest way to receive the proper dosage of nutrients your body needs to thrive.
If Vitamins are Found in Foods, Why Take Supplements?
Unfortunately, many people do not receive the recommended daily intake of the essential vitamins and nutrients from foods alone. If you are a vegetarian, for instance, you would need extra iron as well as vitamin B12, which is primarily found in animal foods. Or you might have an enzyme deficiency, which inhibits the nutrients from being absorbed properly by your body.
There is also evidence that suggests food is less nutritious than it used to be, which means that your body is starting off with less to work with.
One study published in the Journal of American College Nutrition evaluated changes in USDA nutrient content data for 43 garden crops between 1950 and 1999. They found that compared to foods grown in 1950, those grown in 1999 had a:
38% decrease in riboflavin
15% decrease in ascorbic acid
16% decrease in calcium
9% decrease in phosphorus
15% decrease in iron
6% decrease in protein content
A slight increase (0.6%) in water content
There are many theories as to why food may be less nutritious, including nutrient-poor soil, poor crop rotation methods and development of crops that are meant to produce massive yields. There have also been conflicting studies on organic produce, with some finding organic produce to be more nutritious than conventionally grown produce, and others finding no difference.
Further, millions of Americans who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD) are simply not eating enough fruits and vegetables to get adequate levels of the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. They're certainly taking in enough calories -- that's evidenced by the obesity epidemic facing the nation -- but it's the quality of those calories that are important. You can eat all day long and still be vitamin-deficient if you haven't chosen your foods wisely. For instance, do you:
Eat fast food often?
Rarely eat fresh vegetables and fruit?
Rely on quick, processed foods and snacks?
Fill up on soda or other sweet beverages?
Feel you're not eating a nutritious diet?
If so, you're likely in need of some "extra" vitamins (though they're not really "extra" in the event your body is deficient in them, they're what's required to keep you healthy!).<;p>
Discuss with your doctor your overall health, wellness, family medical history, and diet, and he or she can help you discover if you need to take a specific vitamin supplement to support your health.
Your doctor will also let you know, though, that too much of a single vitamin or nutrient is also bad for your health. Following a healthy diet with the recommended amounts of servings will always be your best option for maintaining good health.
Nutrition Science News: “Natural vs. Synthetic Vitamin E” by Jack Challem.
Heise Health Clinic: “Natural B Vitamins are Better that Synthetic Ones” by Dr. Robert J Thiel
“Documented Differences Between Natural and Synthetic Vitamins”
Heartland Neuropathic Clinic: “Natural vs. Synthetic Vitamins”
Global Healing Center: “The Differences Between Synthetic and Natural Vitamins” by Dr. Edward Group
Dr. Ben Kim: “Synthetic vs. Natural Vitamins” by Dr. Ben Kim
ACSU: “Vitamins and Minerals”
University of Maryland Medical Center: “Vitamin A (Retinol)”
Journal of American College Nutrition;23(6):669-82