Natural vs. Synthetic Vitamins – What’s the Big Difference?

Thursday, January 2, 2014 @ 09:01 AM Charlie Pulsipher
Natural vs. Synthetic Vitamins – What’s the Big Difference? 4.64/5 (92.89%) 45 votes

Vitamins are little organic molecules we need, but we can’t make them or at least we have a hard time making them ourselves. We must rely on our food to keep us stocked with these essential nutrients, but our food is getting less and less nutritious. Fields are depleted by overuse. Pesticides limit the action of beneficial microbes in the soil that help plants draw in nutrients. Fertilizers focus on certain key chemicals and don’t take into account all the trace minerals, organic components, or beneficial microbes that go into good nutrition. And genetically modified foods have made their way into our food supply when we don’t know how they may affect us in the long term.

produce_in_the_store_is_depleted_of_nutritents_picOn top of these problems, we refine and process our food so it lasts longer, is more convenient, tastes better, and is even made to be more addictive. We strip out and destroy vital nutrients as we process them. Much of the food we find in grocery stores outside the produce section barely resembles what humanity has been eating for thousands of years. There’s no wonder we have so many auto-immune disorders, food allergies, and growing epidemics of obesity. Our bodies don’t know what we’re ingesting, they aren’t finding the nutrients they need, and they’re begging for us to eat more and more so we might manage to give ourselves what we’re missing.

We all know we need a steady supply of vitamins and minerals so our bodies can function properly. Scientists, doctors, and food companies agree too, so they create cheap vitamins in labs, fortify our foods and beverages with them, and dump them into multivitamins. The problem is these synthetic vitamins are not what our bodies are looking for either.

Almost all multivitamins are from synthetics. The same goes for fortified foods. There’s a good reason for this. Synthetic vitamins are cheaper to make and usually more stable. This means they can last on shelves for months or years, be added to foods in high doses, and create small dense tablets packed with insane amounts of every type of vitamin. These vitamins are allowed to call themselves “natural” even when they are actually synthetic because scientists say the synthetics are virtually identical to the ones found in food.


The way these compounds are made is not remotely similar to the metabolic processes that plants and animals use to create them. The finished product is also usually a compound not exactly the same form as any found in nature. These synthetic vitamins, according to a multitude of studies, are not as bioavailable, absorbable, or usable. These “virtually identical” vitamins are not what we find in natural foods, not recognizable to the body, hard on the kidneys, and can often be treated as toxins.

broccoli_contains_natural_vitamin_a_picNatural Vitamin A – Vitamin A shows up in food as beta-carotene. The body must convert it into vitamin A to be useful. This sounds less effective, but vitamin A can be toxic in large doses. Beta-carotene allows the body to convert what it needs and discard what it does not as a natural safeguard against damage.

Synthetic Vitamin A – Synthetic vitamin A is retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate. This synthetic is made from combining fish or palm oil with beta-ionone. Palm oil is leading to deforestation of rainforest and endangerment of orangutans. Beta-ionone is created using citrus, acetone, and calcium oxide.

Natural Vitamin B1 – Thiamin, or vitamin B1, is a water soluble vitamin created by plants and bound to phosphate. Digestion releases the thiamin using specialized enzymes that target phosphate.

Synthetic Vitamin B1 – Thiamine mononitrate or thiamine hydrochloride is made from coal tar, ammonia, acetone, and hydrochloric acid. It is much less absorbable since it isn’t bound to phosphate. It is crystalline in structure, unlike plant-based vitamins. Many synthetic vitamins are crystalline. Crystals in our blood stream cause damage and mineral accumulation where it isn’t needed, like joints.

Natural Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin is easily absorbed, stays in the blood stream for long periods of time, and is readily used by the body in many important enzymes.

Synthetic Vitamin B2 – Synthetic riboflavin is made with acetic acid and nitrogen or using genetically modified bacteria and fermentation. It has been shown to be less absorbable and then quickly removed from the blood stream and expelled in urine like a toxin would be.

Natural Vitamin B3 – Niacinamide or nicotinamide is what we find in food and commonly call niacin. Niacin can have side effects, but these are minimal when coming from plant foods.

Synthetic Vitamin B3 – Nicotinic acid is created using coal tar, ammonia, acids, 3-cyanopyridine, and formaldehyde. It is less absorbable and has more risks of side effects.

Natural Vitamin B5 – Pantothenate is the natural version of this essential B vitamin.

Synthetic Vitamin B5 – Pantothenic acid involves isobutyraldehyde and formaldehyde to form a calcium or sodium salt. The alcohol derivative, penthenol, is sometimes used as it is more stable and lasts longer on store shelves.

bananas_contain_natural_vitamin_b6_imageNatural Vitamin B6 – Like B1, pyridoxine is bound with phosphate in plants to make pyridoxal-phosphate. This is the biologically active form. Any other form of B6 must be converted into this phosphate combination before our body can use it.

Synthetic Vitamin B6 – Pyridoxine hydrochloride comes from petroleum ester, hydrochloric acid, and formaldehyde. It isn’t readily absorbed or converted and has been shown to actually inhibit the action of natural B6 in the body. It also has side effects not normally found with natural food sources of this vitamin.

Natural Vitamin B7 – Biotin is involved in cell growth, fat production, and metabolism.

Synthetic Vitamin B7 – Synthetic B7 is produced using fumaric acid.

Natural Vitamin B9 – This B vitamin exists in food as folate and is very important in the creation and repair of DNA, thus the vital importance of this vitamin before and during pregnancy.

Synthetic Vitamin B9 – Folic acid doesn’t exist in natural foods, is crystalline, and is not easily absorbed despite the large amounts that are added to vitamins and supplements. It comes from petroleum derivatives, acids, and acetylene.

Natural Vitamin B12 – Cobalamin B12 is only created by micro-organisms like the bacteria that grow in soil and our intestines, as well as some micro-algae and perhaps some seaweed species.

Synthetic Vitamin B12 – Cobalt and cyanide are fermented to make cyanocobalamin. That’s correct. Cyanide. It is in miniscule amounts, but it is still cyanide.

Natural Choline – Choline is often grouped with B vitamins. It is combined with phosphate in nature and is important in cell membranes and keeping fat in check.

Synthetic Choline – Choline chloride or choline bitartrate is made using ethylene, ammonia, and hydrochloric acid or tartaric acid. It is not bound to phosphate.

vitamins_c_can_be_found_in_red_berries_picNatural Vitamin C – This vitamin is readily available in citrus, red bell peppers, berries, and many more fruits and vegetables. In nature it is combined with flavonoids and phytonutrients that help in its absorption and use.

Synthetic Vitamin C – Ascorbic acid is an isolated vitamin from genetically modified corn sugar that is hydrogenated and processed with acetone. It does not include the flavonoids and phytonutrients that make it work.

Natural Vitamin D – Technically this one isn’t always thought of as a vitamin since we make it ourselves. Mushrooms, yeast, and lichen produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Humans do too. A daily dose of about 20 minutes of sunlight provides all we need. Vitamin D3 is the most effective kind, the same that comes from our own skin and lichen. Mushrooms and yeast often yield D2.

Synthetic Vitamin D – To mimic the natural production we find in our skin, scientists irradiate animal fat to stimulate vitamin D3 synthesis. They usually use lanolin, the waxy secretions from sheep skin that keeps wool dry.

Natural Vitamin E – Vitamin E actually refers to 8 different fat soluble compounds and it acts as an antioxidant that protects fats from oxidation. The most biologically active form is found in grains, seeds, and the oils from grains and seeds.

Synthetic Vitamin E – The synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol is created using refined oils, trimethylhydroquinone, and isophytol. It is not as easily absorbed, doesn’t stay as long in tissues, and is quickly dispelled like a toxin or unknown chemical.

Natural Vitamin K – This vitamin is important to proper blood clotting and some metabolic pathways. It is found in dark leafy greens.

Synthetic Vitamin K – Synthetic vitamin K, menadione, comes from coal tar derivatives and genetically modified and hydrogenated soybean oil, and uses hydrochloric acid and nickel. It is considered highly toxic and damages the immune system.

Vitamins should really come from food sources as much as possible. If you want a multivitamin, reach for ones that use whole food sources like holy basil, guava, and other herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Sunwarrior Raw Vitamins for Her and Raw Vitamins for Him come from whole-food sources.

Synthetic vitamins are isolated or simulated nutrients that do not take into account all the countless phytonutrients that come along with them. Nature is not a select few things isolated from the rest. We are only beginning to understand how many of the lesser known compounds in plants react with one another as we eat them, but we do know humanity has been eating whole foods for a very long time. We have evolved to recognize the whole, not just individual chemicals that have been created to approximate an essential vitamin.

Avoid supplements that use words ending in -acid, -ide, and sometimes -ate or that use the “dl” before the name.

Minerals should be from whole foods as well as often as possible. They are not considered organic materials as they come initially from the earth, but plants incorporate minerals into their systems and combine them with organic compounds. This is how our bodies know them and incorporate them into our systems as well. Minerals are often combined with proteins to form enzymes. Your body is begging you for the vitamins and minerals it knows, loves, and misses terribly.

 

 

 

Charlie Pulsipher

About Charlie Pulsipher

Charlie Pulsipher is a health and fitness enthusiast, writer, author, and neighborhood do-gooder. He shifted his education from Biochemistry to English Literature in an attempt to avoid math, but never stopped loving the natural world of the miniscule. He has published several fantasy and science fiction novels and helped others publish more down to earth books about natural foods. He can’t stop writing. He is probably happily tapping away on some keyboard even now.

42 Responses to “Natural vs. Synthetic Vitamins – What’s the Big Difference?”

  1. angela santos says:

    Impressionante!!! Artigo maravilhoso. !!!Vou guardar e fazer uso de informação tão relevante para minha saúde.!!!Como aprendemos com artigos atuais e tão novos mas com uma gama de informação tão grande!!!

  2. lynda zoost says:

    Its pretty hard to get these from real food when most of our foods are toxic, re: bad soil, chem trails, pesticides etc.

  3. Jonathan says:

    What matters more then the process to make the vitamins is the chemical structures of the synthetic vitamins. If the end product of the process is the same as natural vitamins, it doesn’t matter that they were synthesized outside of a biological system. However, it is true that some vitamins have multiple chiral centers. This is important because sometimes it is difficult to synthesize compounds with chiral centers to be exactly the same as those found in nature. Because we know that many of our enzymes are stereo specific, it is important to select for the synthesized vitamin structure that matches our enzymes. Here is were we face more difficulty. Some chemical processes can select for certain stereo isomers, but it is difficult and can be expensive. So the reason synthesized vitamins CAN be less effective is because they usually have a mixture of all the stereo isomers and only some of the isomers interact with our enzymes. BUT! I am sure that all the children that suffer from night blindness in India are happy to ingest any form of vitamin A they can get. A researcher from Johns Hopkins discovered that children in India were not getting the amount of vitamin A they needed. This was important because vitamin A is converted to retinal which is used in visual processes. Lack of vitamin A was causing night blindness in children from lack of retinal then further progressing into complete blindness due to corneal ulcers. Synthetic vitamin A is easy to administer and transport. So I said all that to say, yes natural vitamins are better, but synthetic vitamins have their place and they are effective. Not to the degree natural vitamins are, but they have their place and the process for developing them has nothing to do with how effective they are if they are purified.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Why did you delete my reply??? It was valid and true. You mistaken in your claims. A true writer will provide references for his claims that way people without sufficient knowledge can look it up themselves.

    • Sunwarrior says:

      Don’t worry, Jonathon; we didn’t delete your reply. Comments are manually published in the back so we can prevent the hundreds of spam comments from clogging up the articles and making it difficult to find the real comments. We got a little behind this week and hadn’t yet published your comment. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the benefits of synthetic vitamins!

  5. GetUpNGetFit says:

    As a personal trainer/ health & wellness coach i really appreciate how you broke down and compared the “ingredients” in natural verse synthetic vitamins, from A through K, and how these ingredients effect the human body.There are lots of information provided on the internet about the effects of sugar, energy drinks and even GMO products on the human body but it’s rare to find reliable information on the matter of synthetic vitamins. I believe knowledge is key and providing helpful information really makes it easier for others to educate themselves on what they should or shouldn’t be consuming. Great article.

  6. andreah aires pinto says:

    Maravilhosa a apresentação das vitaminas naturais e sintéticas.

  7. Tammy says:

    That’s why we take 100% plant based Juice Plus+ capsules and chewables !! Whole food baby!

    • June says:

      YES Tammy! I agree. However, for some B 12, 6 etc. may be lacking a great deal or a little. This would depend on a variety of reasons – age, dietary style (Vegetarian, Vegan, etc.) & also health status.

      I am a whole food devotee, wishing any whole food supplementation to be as minimally processed as possible.

      Kyani ia another excellent choice, as it has the Organic Noni Plant. This whole food stimulates the body’s natural ability to create Nitic Oxide (something we gradually do less of beginning in our mid twenties). Nitric Oxide enhances oxygen within at a cellular level. Also Kyani provides the highly recommended Vitamin E, in the Tocorienol form rather than Tocopherol. Much more as well. So Kyani is considered a “Nutraceutical”, as it has Whole Foods with added NonGMO ingredients.

  8. Robert W says:

    While the information within the article is -for the most part – accurate, and the foundational premise sound; its best to get our vitamins and minerals from our food, the point is some what moot. Why? For decades the nutrient levels in our produce and fruits , grains etc, have been in a steep decline. People that don’t use supplements generally end up malnourished, UNLESS they are doing a massive amount of regular juicing.The truth is , so called “synthetic ” vitamins have gotten much better as research reveals the means to increase their absorbency and retention in the body. Supplement makers don’t always adhere to the principles so its best to educate ourselves and buy from those companies offering the most efficacious forms, made form the purist raw materials.

    • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

      Very good points, Robert. Thank you for sharing them.

    • CmdrSoCal says:

      I have been a health nut for 10 years and off supplements for five. You can get all your nutrient needs from organic food very easily and without juicing. If you are going to supplement use whole “super foods” or food sourced supplements and never synthetic pharmaceutical chemicals.

  9. Tinh Nguyen says:

    Good to know…
    Thank you..Timmy

  10. Patty H says:

    So should i go to a natural foods store to get my multi-vitamins ?? thank you — Patty

    • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

      Yes or online, Patty. Sunwarrior has a good one and so do many other companies. Just be sure to check the back label and look at the ingredients for whole foods.

    • Carol Parham says:

      Just because supplements are in a natural foods store doesn’t guarantee or even suggest they are made from quality or natural vitamins, etc. These stores just order what’s available. There are very few quality, natural supplements being produced – probably less than 1% of what is produced. There are even fewer supplements for those of us that need them free of gluten, soy, starch, sweeteners, lactose, etc.

  11. June says:

    Great posts & comments here! Thank you all & Sunwarrior!

  12. L Mahan says:

    Zinc supplements for adults and children?

    • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

      You can find these at any health food store, but be careful. You can get too much zinc. I like zinc rich foods like cacao, pumpkin seeds, spinach, nuts, and whole grains.

      • Klaas says:

        Hi Charlie,

        I really like your simple to understand and detailed information on how the body interacts with our food and it’s nutrients.

        I just checked my supplements and found zinc GLUCONATE in my Pharma Nord Bio-selenium with zinc!
        It containers 15 mg each tablet (1 tablet a day) which is 150% of the adviced daily intake.
        Using this supplement till yesterday, what could be an effect of to much (synthetic) zinc?

        P.S. EU standards on the ADI (we call it adviced, but US calls it allowed, could make a big difference I would say)

        • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

          Thank you, Klaas. Zinc gluconate is actually one of the better forms of this mineral with a lot less side effects than others. Too much zinc can make your immune system suffer. It is one of those nutrients that does great in small amounts and then begins to cause problems in higher amounts. 15 mg is a little more than you need, but not enough to cause any problems unless you are eating plenty of zinc rich foods too. So you are probably okay. I take a break from any supplements for a couple days each week. That may work for you as well.

          • Thomas H says:

            Too much Zinc can be a problem, but one fix for males would be ejaculation. Zinc helps protect the DNA in sperm so if you are a guy and you have too much Zinc then just get to work.

  13. You guys don’t even list the specifics or suffixes of the styles on your vitamins in the label for each nutrient. Citrate, bisglycinate, oxide, carbonates… Nothing. Regardless of the source that still has to be listed. I don’t even know how that’s legal let alone helpful. And at $54? No. #vitaminfail

    • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

      Sorry, Jeffrey, but the natural vitamins found in food are rarely just one type or form, so the suffixes don’t apply very well when you aren’t using isolated or synthesized vitamins. And I’m not even going to touch on the use a hashtag in a blog comment.

  14. derrick says:

    Is this the right amount of each vitamin you need? Compared to other multi vitamins this falls way short

    • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

      Synthetic vitamins have altered the way we see nutrients. If a multivitamin doesn’t offer over 100% of everything, we toss it aside. Most of our vitamins and minerals should be coming from our food and a supplement should be exactly what the name implies, to supplement our diet, not replace it. Synthetics are also much harder for the body to use, so our daily requirements aren’t accurate either. Natural, food-based vitamins are usually far more readily absorbed and used, so our requirement goes down. More of a good thing isn’t always better either. The insanely high amounts of some vitamins in multivitamins is wasteful and sometimes dangerous.

  15. Josh says:

    Hi,
    Your labels say raw, non-gmo and no synthetics, however you have methycobalamin as your source of b12. Methycobalamin is a synthetic form of b12. It is not raw in any way. In addition it is made from gmo- bacteria and produced using gmo inputs. I am wondering how you reconcile this with your labels?
    I have tried calling your company about this repeatedly and am just given the run around.

  16. Great article, nicely broken down. I just wanted to add further research down and published shows that synthetic vitamins and minerals mostly get destroyed in the acidic environment of the gut and what survives to the small intestines were absorption occurs crystallizes preventing absorption and further causes free-radical damage and uses any vitamins obtained from food to try to neutralize the damage, so taking synthetic forms are just making you sicker than you were before. Much better to take nothing and save your money than have false security taking something that our bodies view as toxic. I take patented supplements that I buy wholesale directly from the manufacturer and have normalized blood pressure and cholesterol as well as pain from fibo and accident injuries to joints and disks from a motorcycle accident and am now medication free.

    • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

      Thank you, Karen. Synthetics do seem to cause much more problems than they propose to fix. Your vitamins sound amazing!

  17. Frank Komitsky Jr. says:

    One of the most ludicrous pieces of writing I have ever read! Factually incorrect in statement after statement!

  18. Read this and notice that they are not afraid to back up their information with references. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1789253

    • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

      The problems with your link and the references is they rely on synthetics when doing studies on multivitamins. I strongly agree with what they have found. Synthetic vitamins are a waste of time, money, and can definitely do harm, especially in such high doses. Studies on non-synthetic vitamin supplements are lacking. I hope that changes over the next ten years.

  19. Marianne Brooks says:

    do you have a catalog?

  20. Hana says:

    Let’s be real. Who really, actually knows we’re getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals with our whole, natural food intake. If we don’t and can’t know accurately, I’d get those other synthetic vitamins to fill in the gaps, if any.

    • Charlie Pulsipher Charlie Pulsipher says:

      You may be correct, Hana. It is hard to know for sure, but I think we overcompensate sometimes with synthetics.


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