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