Natural vs Synthetic Vitamins

If a persons immune system is already weak, it can also be helpful to supplement with key vitamins and minerals that may have become depleted. There is evidence pointing to the fact that various micro-nutrient deficiencies (such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, D and E) can alter the immune response. However, it is important to note that the most effective way to get vital nutrients are via natural foods and whole food supplements (if at all). Learn more about the link between immunity and food via our article here.

We are sharing more information on why synthetic vitamins need to be re-evaluated via points well summarized in an article by Razvan Radu:

  1. Synthetic vitamins can have the same chemical composition but still have a different shape (optical activity).[1]
  2. There are likely many mechanisms and pathways implicated in the assimilation of nutrients, and not all of them are related to their chemical structure.
  3. Some of the proteins required for the breakdown of nutrients will only work for nutrients with the correct shape.
  4. The factors that influence the retention of a distinct nutrient are not limited just to the nature of that nutrient, but also to its interaction with other nutrients (e.g., co-factors).
  5. Most synthetic nutrients are crystalline in appearance whereas most natural nutrients are actually in a complex matrix which also includes fiber, enzymes, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, trace elements, coenzymes, amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants and other unknown factors.[2]
  6. The process of constructing complete nutrient using the body’s nutrient reserves coupled with the laborious process of eliminating the unusable isolates negates what little benefits synthetic vitamin isolates have to offer.
  7. The body does not possess a mechanism for breaking down synthetic nutrients that have a modified shape; as a consequence, most of these synthetic nutrients will pass through the body with little or no absorption.[3]
  8. A natural nutrient is complete and includes all of the trace minerals and cofactors required for its optimal absorption in the body whereas a synthetic nutrient is isolated and incomplete.
  9. Nutrients in nature are smaller in size than lab-created vitamins, minerals, and amino acids and smaller particles are better assimilated than larger ones.[4]
  10. Synthetic vitamins that the body cannot use must be removed, like all other bodily wastes, through excretory organs like the skin and kidneys; this adds to the overall burden on the body.
  11. To use a deficient nutrient, the body has to reconstruct it by borrowing cofactors from natural reserves; this can lead to nutrient depletion and overall deficiency.
  12. The quality of natural nutrients trumps the mega quantities of synthetic nutrient isolates, most of which will be excreted from the body without providing any real benefits.
  13. The raw materials used to create synthetic nutrients in a lab can increase the toxic load on the body leading to potential adverse reactions; this is not a risk associated with nutrients sourced from organic foods.
  14. While some synthetic versions of natural nutrients have pharmacological activity similar to natural nutrients, some have no beneficial activity in the body. Others are vitamin antagonists, and some actually produce a deficiency of the specific vitamin they are analogs of, and this differs based on the vitamin.
  15. It is wrong, if not immoral, to claim that synthetic vitamin isolates are used in much the same way as natural vitamins from foods given that the substances used to synthesize them are known toxins.

For a better understanding of the concept, let’s consider the example of natural Vitamin C[5] extracted from Indian gooseberry (Amla) versus isolated Ascorbic Acid manufactured in a lab from genetically modified corn.

Vitamin C exists in nature as a complex that is composed of bioactive molecules that work well together to provide therapeutic benefits. However, because these bioactive constituents are susceptible to oxidation, plants that produce Vitamin C (e.g., Indian gooseberry) enclose these active compounds with a shell of ascorbic acid. 

On the other hand, ascorbic acid constitutes only about 5%[6] of the vitamin complex, is often used as a marker compound to identify the presence of Vitamin C in a food source, and is wrongly used interchangeably with Vitamin C on product labels. 

The source of the synthetic, isolated ascorbic acid notwithstanding, it is imperative to note that ascorbic acid lacks critical bioactive composites found in natural sources of Vitamin C and, therefore, cannot be expected to deliver the same range of advantages that a Vitamin C complex is capable of providing.”

Watch this video from the What I’ve Learned (WIL) channel to understand more.

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