For the average person, the health food and vitamin landscape is overwhelming at best and confusing at worst. When you walk into the vitamin department, you expect to find healthy foods and supplements. But, did you know there’s such a thing as synthetic vitamins as opposed to natural vitamins?
When you think about vitamins, you probably automatically think “healthy” and “natural”. Unfortunately, that’s just not so. In fact, some synthetic vitamins, which are made up of isolated nutrients and synthetic ingredients, can actually build up in your fatty tissues and cause toxicity.
Most synthetic vitamins are derived from chemical compounds and other synthetic ingredients, the likes of which certainly aren’t found in nature. For thousands of years, the human body has become adept at metabolizing and digesting foods found in nature and, because of that, your body prefers natural vitamins and ingredients (such as those found in whole foods) as opposed to the chemical compounds found in many synthetic vitamins and supplements. And, believe it or not, the human body is smart enough to know the difference between natural vitamins and synthetic vitamins.
Synthetic Vitamin Problems
With some synthetic vitamins, the body is able to flush them out easily because of their water solubility. In fact, when you take some synthetic vitamins, you may notice that your urine turns a bright yellow color, particularly with Vitamin B12. Rest assured the body is doing its job: flushing out the excess that it can’t use. But, while the body is flushing out the excess, the kidneys are also being taxed to remove that excess. Additionally, some synthetic vitamins are made up of ingredients that have a low bioavailability, and your body is unable to utilize most of the nutrients, which means your money is, quite literally, flushed down the toilet.
In addition to the increased potential for toxicity when taking some synthetic vitamins, there’s also an increase potential for allergic reactions. Since some synthetic vitamins are largely made up of chemicals, including nicotine and coal tars, some individuals may experience allergic reactions when taking them.
But, what about fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E & vitamin K? Aren’t they always considered natural vitamins? The simple answer is “no“. Fat-soluble vitamins can be chemically altered with synthetic ingredients in a laboratory, resulting in pure synthetic vitamins. And, because they are dissolved in fat instead of water, if you take more of these fat-soluble vitamins than your body can metabolize, they will be stored up within your fat cells. Over time they can accumulate, resulting in toxicity and creating even more health problems for you!
The alternative to synthetic vitamins is clear: eat as many whole foods as possible and take only the finest natural vitamins, except in certain circumstances.
Identifying The Finest Natural Vitamins
While the solution is simple, you may find yourself asking the question, “what exactly are natural vitamins?” Unfortunately, that’s where the simplicity ends and the complexity begins. While the label on a vitamin can reveal some vital information, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. For example, many vitamins contain the label “natural”. This can mislead many into thinking that the vitamin is made up entirely or even mostly of natural ingredients. In fact, within the United States, this is simply untrue. Vitamins can be labeled as natural by containing as little as 10% of the natural form of the vitamin. That means the other 90% could contain purely synthetic, isolated nutrients. Not nearly as natural as you thought, right?
Another label that can be misleading is the label, “organic”. While many people consider products labeled organic to be vastly superior to those that aren’t organic, this isn’t always the case. For example, some sources of Omega 3s can’t be certified organic – like fish oils. And, if a vitamin contains Omega 3s from fish oils, it can’t be certified as entirely organic. That doesn’t, however, mean the particular vitamin isn’t superior to the competition. It just takes a bit more investigative work to determine if they are among the finest natural vitamins and if they are superior to the competition.
Reading The Label
While labels can’t always tell the whole story, the ingredient labels should give you further insight into whether they are the finest natural vitamins or if they are made up of mostly synthetic ingredients. The finest vitamins will most likely include a mix of natural and synthetic vitamins, chosen based on risk factors and bioavailability. Look for the parenthesis after the listed ingredient which can help you tell what form the supplement uses. To identify synthetic vitamins, look for words that begin with “dl” in the vitamin’s ingredients. When an ingredient contains these letters, it is an indication that the vitamin is synthetic. For example, “dl-alpha tocopherol” is one synthetic form of vitamin E.
By taking the best forms of vitamins – whether natural or synthetic, you allow the ingredients to work synergistically within your body, and allow the vitamins the best possible chance for producing the desired results in your life. To learn more about which vitamins are best in their natural form, and which in their synthetic, read more in our ongoing series of Natural vs Synthetic Vitamins.
NOTE: As with an dietary supplements, seek the advice of a health care professional should you have any conditions that would contraindicate the use of any alternative medicine or therapies.