All Natural Vitamins Versus Synthetics


This topic of this page, all natural vitamins versus synthetic vitamins is a sub-topic from my article Ingredient quality in nutritional supplements which deals with 'ingredient quality' as one of the key criteria that should be used when evaluating the true standard of supplements. 

That article lists several questions we need to ask of supplement companies in order to draw out often hidden information, allowing us to properly evaluate different supplement brands.

Some of those questions come from an examination of the content on this page. To view all the questions please use the link above.

The all natural vitamins versus synthetic vitamins and minerals debate has been going on for years with differing opinions from the experts and non-experts alike. 

So let's look at the facts. What are the important things in this area that you need to know when evaluating ingredient quality in supplements?

Definitions and Facts

All Natural Vitamins

  • “Natural” means substances in their indigenous, unaltered state and coming directly from a plant, food or animal. 

  • Fact: Sourcing vitamins in this way is extremely expensive and requires significant chemical processing.

  • Fact: Many natural ingredients are biologically unstable – especially when they are removed from the food source - they must be stabilized with materials such as hydrochloride, sulphates, KCL, or incorporated into stabilizing matrices etc.

    They are much more susceptible to contamination during manufacture and properties such as color, appearance and potency can vary considerably from one batch to the next - as can the macro-nutrient chemical composition.

Synthetic Vitamins

  • “Synthetic” means substances that begin either as a natural source (natural precursors) or as inorganic chemicals, and have been chemically synthesized in a laboratory.

  • Fact: Synthetics are the same as all natural vitamins and minerals – your body cannot distinguish between a 'synthetic' compound and a 'natural' compound of identical structure. Also their use and efficacy in the body is identical.

  • Fact: Synthetic isolates are cheaper, far easier to work with and quicker to manufacture than natural ingredients - hence their widespread use. 

  • Fact: Less reputable companies succumb to the financial pressure to use synthetic forms in cases when the natural form has been proven to be better and should be used.


When determining the source for vitamins and minerals, a quality supplement company will conform to well accepted scientific evidence which shows that one vitamin form is preferable over another. This guarantees ingredients which are best absorbed and utilized in your body.

So sometimes it’s absolutely better to use synthetic ingredients. This is to achieve sufficient levels of purity, potency, safety, dosage and bioavailibility which cannot be achieved with materials from natural sources.

Example: Folic acid - the synthetic form is almost always used in supplements as it is preferentially absorbed and used over natural food folates in your body.

Extensive scientific research validates some all natural vitamins as being more advantageous than synthetic forms. 

Natural Vitamin E is a case in point and has been proven to have significantly higher bioavailability, about twice the biological activity, and three times the potency of synthetic Vitamin E. Your body must really like natural vitamin E because research shows that it actually tries to rid itself of synthetic vitamin E as quickly as it can. (1)

Be sure your supplement contains only natural Vitamin E!

It is identified by the label “d-alpha”. (Recently - natural vitamin E was renamed as “RRR-alpha-tocopherol” so you may see it as this).

The synthetic form is commonly labeled “dl-alpha” but it too was recently renamed as “all-rac-alpha-tocopherol”.

Important: The full vitamin E family consists of 4 tocopherols (alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocopherols) and 4 tocotrienols (alpha-, beta- gamma and delta-tocotrienols). 

The tocotrienols have significant biological value (particularly alpha and gamma) and are definitely an ingredient you want in your supplement.

Tocotrienols have a different structure from tocopherols and so take part in different antioxidant reactions in the body. These differences in structure also allow them to be better distributed in the fatty layers of cell membranes, making their antioxidant activity in these areas more potent than tocopherols.

Tocotrienols are up to 50 times more expensive than quality natural vitamin E so don’t be surprised if they’re not there in your supplement!

If you would like to read about the brain protection benefits of tocotrienols please follow this link.

You can find in depth information about tocotrienols at tocotrienol.org 

Beta Carotene is another important ingredient that should be in the natural form (from D. salina algae) because it contains 5 important carotenoids that the synthetic version does not - Alpha Carotene, Cryptoxanthin, Zeaxanthin, Lutein and Lycopene.

Be sure your supplement contains natural Beta Carotene!

One mineral, Calcium Carbonate, can be sourced directly from its natural state in the earth and ground up. It’s biotechnology for the others! 

The bottom line in the all natural vitamins versus synthetics debate is that most vitamins and minerals used in the majority of supplements (all standards) are synthetic. They are produced using biotechnology which creates biological activity in the body identical to those found in nature. 

There are a few exceptions as we’ve seen above where the natural form is preferable.

To read more on where vitamins come from please follow this link to an interesting article in the Xtend-Life newsletter archives you will also find a link in this article which shows a production flow chart for the manufacture of vitamin B 12.


Sources

  1. Traber MG, Elsner A, Brigelius-Flohe R. Synthetic as compared with natural vitamin E is preferentially excreted as alpha-CEHC in human urine: studies using deuterated alpha-tocopherol acetates. FESB Letters, 1998; 437:145-148

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