Synthetic vitamins, are they good for you?

Synthetic1. (of a substance) made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product.

There was a time when taking a multitude of different supplements seemed like the thing to do for optimal health. Like many, I was taken with the marketing hype that I needed to supplement to be healthy. It wasn't until I started researching the benefits of whole plant skincare that I made the same connection to my body about whole food vitamins compared to the synthetic counterparts. 

There is a general assumption that a synthetic ingredient, whether in a pill or those found in skincare, works as effectively as vitamins delivered in their natural state. Though the isolated molecule of synthetic and natural vitamins may be the same, many studies and our growing awareness of how interconnected everything is, challenge this belief.

Artificial synthetic ingredients don't contain the complex and synergistic factors found in nature. And, it's these synergistic factors that are most important for absorption and effectiveness. 

Vitamins in food are never isolated, and vitamins found in any natural food are chemically and structurally different from those commonly found in 'natural vitamin' formulas. 

Up until recently the mainstream narrative has been  - 'The body cannot tell whether a vitamin in the bloodstream came from an organically food or a chemist's laboratory' [13], but this assumption is misleading at best and completely wrong at worst.

1: It assumes that the process of getting the amount of the vitamin into the bloodstream is the same (which is not to be the case). [8-9].

2: Particle size is an essential factor in nutrient absorption. Most vitamins have a particle size that is too large for the body to utilise.

3: The food factors that influence the absorption of nutrients relate not only to the nature of the nutrients themselves, but also their interaction with each other... [11].

4: Food and non-food vitamins are generally not in the same form. Food vitamins come in a physicochemical form (having material existence and subject to the laws of nature). This is a significant factor in bioavailability as your body easily recognises this form. (12). While most non-food vitamins are crystalline in structure [1] which your body doesn't recognise. 

It's not surprising that the same force that created this planet knew what it was doing when it embedded vitamins within food. 

This does not mean that non-food vitamins do not have any value (they can), but it is essential to understand that natural food complex vitamins are shown to be better than isolated, non-food vitamins [14]. Also, minus the chemicals which they're derived from. It's also not to say that we don't need supplementation due to the sad state of much of the world's soil [18] resulting in food that no longer as nutrient dense as it was.

We could go through every vitamin and compare it to its food-based counterpart but let's look at one of our favourites, vitamin C.

We've discussed how natural vitamin C is superior to ascorbic acid many times before [15]. Actually, to compare the two is a false comparison. If labelling laws were based on truth, the labelling of 'ascorbic acid' as 'vitamin C' would be illegal. 

The synthetic version is just a simple chemical substance. While the other is complex, concentrated food and contains bioflavonoids, amino acids, fibre, and other constituents that make it a complex, intelligent mixture.

The results from the two are startlingly different

Ascorbic acid does not contain DHA. DHA is what transports vitamin C around your body. It's also what generates the necessary enzyme cofactor to create intracellular antioxidants.

Ascorbic acid and the issue with Oxidative Reduction Potential (ORP). Citrus food vitamin C has negative ORP, but ascorbic acid has positive ORP (1). Why does this matter? Because it takes negative ORP to clean up oxidative damage [1].

Foods high in vitamin C tend to have high Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). This is important because ORAC subdues oxygen free radicals [16]. Natural vitamin C also produces the most significant increase in blood antioxidant levels compared to isolated ascorbic acid even when delivered at 16 times the amount of natural vitamin C. [4]

What's more important for your skin is that Natural vitamin C is scientifically proven to penetrate your skin 12 times more effectively than pure ascorbic acid serums [5].

Synthetics can not deliver long-term benefits and results. For these reasons and many others are why we're so passionate about skincare comprised of whole natural extracts from botanicals. It's also why the high levels of natural vitamin C from Kakadu Plum and Finger Lime are so powerful in Clean Collagen. 

Natural skincare may have been viewed as fringe or simply a way to avoid chemicals, but, "mmmm, I'm not so sure it works as well" undercurrent to, to now where it is understood to be a far superior product.

One big industry 

The supplement industry in the US alone is expected to grow to 56 billion annually in the next few years. That equals one powerful industry that is drastically unregulated. For example, vitamins can be labeled as “natural” even if they contain as little as 10% of their natural form. This means it also contains up to 90% synthetic chemicals. 

There are also more concerning factors that these synthetic vitamins are actually causing you harm. 

"We should be concerned about taking synthetic vitamins and other unnatural nutrients because published research in the last few years concludes two important things: First, synthetic and other unnatural nutrients are mostly ineffective in preventing disease. Second, these chemicals may be dangerous to your health — some have been shown to increase the risk of death! Most of the studies show an increased incidence of cancer and heart disease, the reason for the increased risk." [6] [17]

It's clear that food vitamins are superior to synthetic vitamins in every way.  They are absorbed and retained by the body far more effectively. They also aren't derived from chemicals. 

If you want to supplement, look for vitamins composed of 100% food powders or extracts.  

It always comes back to the Terra Tonics ethos - the closer we align with nature the healthier you become. 

[1] Budvari S, et al editors. The Merck Index: An encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs, and Biologicals, 12 th ed. Merck Research Laboratories, Whitehouse Station (NJ), 1996
[2] Fowkes SW. Antioxidants & reduction. Smart Life News, 2000;7(9):6-8
[4] Williams D. ORAC values for fruits and vegetables. Alternatives, 1999;7(22):171
[5] Topical Dehydroascorbic Acid (Oxidized Vitamin C) Permeates Stratum Corneum More Rapidly Than Ascorbic Acid April 2012 Authors: Douglas Kitt
[6] Serious Dangers of Synthetic & Unnatural Vitamins By Dr. Phil Maffetone 2015
[7] Whitney EN, Rolfes S. Understanding Nutrition, 4 th ed. West Publishing, New York, 1987
[8] DeCava JA. The Real Truth About Vitamins and Antioxidants. A Printery, Centerfield (MA), 1997
[9] DeCava, J. The Lee Philosophy-Part II. Nutrition News and Views 2003;7(1):1-6
[10] Mervyn L. The B Vitamins. Thorsons, Wellingborough ( UK), 1981
[11] Jenkins DJA, Wolever TMS, and Jenkins AL. Diet Factors Affecting Nutrient Absorption and Metabolism. In Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 8th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phil.,1994:583-602
[12] Macrae R, Robson RK, Sadler MJ. Encyclopedia of Food Science and Nutrition. Academic Press, New York, 1993
[13] Shils M, et al, editors. Modern Nutrition in Health & Disease, 9 th ed. Williams & Wilkins, Balt.,1999
[14] Thiel R. Natural vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones. Med Hypo 2000 55(6):461-469
[16] Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC): New horizons in relating dietary antioxidants/bioactives and health benefitsAuthor links open overlay panelRonald L.Prior. October 2015
[17] Health Harvard Do multivitamins make you healthier? December 2019

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