Ninety percent of vitamins, even ones labeled ‘natural’ or ‘food-based’, you see in commercials (Centrum), at drug store chains, grocery chains, membership club stores (Kirkland brand), vitamin stores, and even Whole Foods are synthetic. Almost all vitamin brands are made by a handful of the largest pharmaceutical companies. They are just in different packaging for marketing purposes.
Man cannot duplicate what nature creates, even when the chemical analysis is identical. Most vitamin supplements are isolated chemical USP (United States Pharmacopeia) vitamins and minerals pressed together in a pill. The vitamins are produced synthetically from petroleum in chemical plants, while the minerals come from mining companies.
Synthetic minerals are derived from rocks such as limestone, coral, oyster shell, sand, and chalk. Yum. Although these materials have mineral profiles, our bodies do not absorb them properly. Humans are not designed to digest rocks and oyster shells. Ideally, we should get all our minerals from plants. Plants absorb these minerals from soil and convert them to a form that is bioavailable to your body. However, because the soils are so deficient in minerals, even on organic farms, we need to take mineral supplements. It is best to take chelated minerals, which are minerals bound to amino acids, for maximum absorption.
Many claim that synthetic vitamins suppress your immune system. Brian Clement, in his book, Supplements Exposed, claims that because of their synthetic nature, the body views synthetic supplements as foreign substances and launches an immune response. Foods and food-based supplements can cause immune system reactions as well. This is not necessarily a reason to avoid synthetic supplements and does not seem to harm your immune system in any meaningful way. For these reasons, I am in favor of using synthetic vitamins and recommend their use.
Food-based vitamins are not always better absorbed. This is not the case with every person or every nutrient. We do absorb synthetic vitamins and minerals. Absorption depends upon many factors. When the body is presented with a synthetic isolate, it may need to draw on its stores of cofactors needed to absorb the vitamins, namely proteins, carbs, fats, bioflavonoids, enzymes, and other vitamins and minerals, but this is not always the case. While true at times, the body is very capable of absorbing a synthesized or isolated nutrient such as vitamin B or vitamin C, even if no other food components or cofactors are provided. If these cofactors are not available, a water-soluble isolate could be excreted and a fat-soluble isolate may be stored in fat, but for the most part the vitamin or mineral can be used. Due to this, the biological activity of synthetic vitamins can be reduced compared to their natural counterparts.
The absorption issue is a stance many food-based supplements take as a reason to use their products, but this issue is really blown far out of proportion. Synthetics are absorbed quite well when taken with a meal. Many synthetic vitamins are poorly absorbed simply because they are bound together with cheap binders that don’t allow a release of the nutrients, not necessarily because the synthetic vitamins are themselves poorly absorbed.
Natural vitamins contain the isolate vitamin (used solely in synthetic vitamins), but they also contain a host of naturally occurring cofactors that assist in the absorption and bioavailability of the vitamin, including proteins, carbs, fats, bioflavonoids, enzymes, other vitamins and minerals, etc. These cofactors must be present for a vitamin or mineral to be used by the body.
For example, to make naturally occurring vitamins, such as vitamin C, a manufacturer could use amla berries, one of the best sources for vitamin C found in nature. A full-spectrum extract is made by removing the non-nutritive fiber. Then the berries are filtered with water, ground up, and dried at low temperatures to concentrate the nutrients and their cofactors. No high heat, freezing, or chemical techniques are used in this natural process. This process would be repeated for other vegetables, fruits, oils, and yeasts to make a full spectrum natural multivitamin.
There is a new standard for natural supplements under development known as the Naturally Occurring Standard (NOS). Products that meet this standard will have a label of approval from NOS proving they are naturally occurring, organic, fairly traded, and free of genetically engineered ingredients, synthetics, and nanoparticles. I anxiously await this standard to be implemented.
One of the main drawbacks of natural vitamins is that you need a lot more of them to get the same results you get with synthetics. Today, most people are toxic and nutrient depleted. They need larger amounts of nutrients than can be obtained with the low doses found in food-based supplements. More food-based supplements are needed to obtain the same dosage as a synthetic in most cases. Food-based supplements are less convenient due to the larger number of tablets or capsules required. Even though a bottle contains 90 tablets, you will likely need to take 4-8 or more per day of a food-based multivitamin to get the same dosage you need with a synthetic vitamin in 2-4 tablets a day. This means that many more tablets must be given, rendering supplementation inconvenient and more expensive.
Food-based products can contain all kinds of different foods to which many could have allergies or sensitivities. As a result, food-based products can cause mild to severe reactions, while the so-called isolated, synthetic nutrient products would not cause such a problem and work far better for sensitive people. People vary in their tolerance to all supplements, as well as to foods.
Food-based natural vitamins will not work for everyone. To say that food-based supplements are better than synthetics is a generalization that is untrue. Again, it’s the old adage: everyone is different. You have to find what supplements work for you. To read more about the differences between food-based vitamins and synthetics, read my blog post Synthetic Vs. Food-based Vitamins.
Best Synthetic Multivitamins
Not everyone responds well to natural, food-based vitamins for the reasons I mentioned. You have to experiment and see what works for your individual biochemistry. These vitamins are not food-based or natural, but very high quality:
Don’t buy cheap vitamins! The evidence for how much money is being wasted on cheap synthetics may be found in the Porta Potty business. One business owner reported how his Porta Potty business in Grand Rapids, Michigan, would find “literally thousands of multiple vitamin/mineral tablets in the bottom screens when the Porta Potty is pressure-cleaned after a public event.” Due to the binders in cheap vitamins, most of them pass through you whole, completely undigested. The lesson here: don’t buy cheap synthetic vitamins! You’re wasting your money.
Best Natural Multivitamins
If you want natural vitamins, I’ve compiled a list of brands I like, though it is my no means comprehensive. For a list of names of synthetic and food-based ingredients on labels that will help you discern if the brand you are using is truly natural or a phony food-based vitamin, see my article supplements, Some of the best natural food-based brands are:
How to Read Labels
If you decide to spend your hard-earned money on vitamins, it is critically important you learn to read labels. I’ve compiled a chart to help you decipher if you are getting what you are paying for in your vitamins.
Beware vitamins that are marketed as ‘natural’ or ‘food-based,’ as most are synthetic. Under current law, a vitamin marketed as natural only has to contain 10 percent natural, plant-derived ingredients – the other ninety percent can be synthetic. The first such type of product uses a natural base, and then synthetic nutrients are added. An example of a natural base is Acerola cherry or rosehip, to which synthetic vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is added. A second type of product uses a ‘food source’ or ‘whole food source’ base such as yeast or algae, to which synthetic vitamins are added. Manufacturers call these supplements ‘natural’ because they are derived from yeast or algae – natural botanicals. However, they are not completely natural because synthetic vitamins have been added to the product.
A product can even be labeled 100% organic and not be natural at all. To be called organic a supplement need only have one carbon atom. This definition broadens the range from acceptable food sources of animal and plant tissues to raw materials including coal tar and wood pulp. Many synthetics are made from coal tar derivatives.
Many so-called natural vitamins have synthetics added to increase potency, or to standardize the amount in a capsule or batch. In addition, a salt form of the vitamin can be added to increase stability of the nutrient (i.e. acetate, bitartrate, chloride, gluconate, hydrochloride, nitrate, succinate). These terms added to the vitamin name help you identify synthetics.
Generally speaking, you can identify natural vitamins by reading the label and finding a listed “food” source such as citrus, yeast, fish, vegetable, etc. If a chemical is listed or the source is blank, it is synthetic.
One easy way to tell if a vitamin is synthetic is to look at the RDA. If the potency is higher than anything you would find in nature (example 1000% Daily Recommended Allowance of vitamin C per serving), the product contains synthetically produced ingredients, no matter what the producer of that product might claim.
The following chart will help you determine whether you are buying synthetic or natural vitamins. The ‘d’ or ‘dl’ form of any vitamin is synthetic.
|Vitamin A||Fish Oils
If source not given
|B-Complex||Brewer’s Yeast||If source not given|
|B5 Pantothenic Acid||Yeast
|B6 Pyridoxine||Yeast||Pyridoxine Hydrochloride|
|B9 Folic Acid||Yeast
Camu Camu Berries
If source not given
|Vitamin D||Fish Oils
|Vitamin E||Vegetable Oil
Wheat Germ Oild-alpha tocopherold-alpha tocopheryl acetated-alpha tocopheryl succinated-beta Tocopherol
|dl-Alpha Tocopheroldl-Beta Tocopheroldl-Delta Tocopheroldl-Gamma Tocopherol|
|Vitamin F||Essential Fatty Acids|
Reduced from Corn (not 100% natural)
|Choline||Soy Beans||Choline Chloride
Why You Need a Multivitamin
Even if you eat only unprocessed organic foods, you will still not get all the nutrients you need. I urge you to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement for the following reasons:
- The foods you eat are stripped of nutrients through refining and processing.
- The foods you eat are laden with fats, sugars, and salts, and devoid of other essential nutrients that strip your body of nutrients to digest them.
- A USDA government survey of 21,500 people found that not one single person consumed 100% of the U.S. RDA (recommended daily allowance) from the foods they ate.
- Due to the time it takes fresh foods to get from the farm to your table, 57% or more of the nutritional value can be lost.
- Soils, even at organic farms, become depleted of vitamins and minerals after years of cultivation.
- Soils are much more depleted than they were even 30 years ago as pesticide use and chemical fertilizers, contributing to soil depletion, have increased in use over the years.
Do You Have a Vitamin Deficiency?
There are a few definitive ways to find out it you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency:
- The best way to improve your health is with a custom supplement program tailored to your individual need. A Mineral Power program based upon a hair mineral analysis will balance your minerals with supplements and a diet tailored specifically to your deficiencies. It’s hard to take a multivitamin and expect to correct nutritional deficiencies and mineral imbalances. It’s much more effective to do a hair analysis to determine what minerals you individually need to supplement. A hair analysis, unlike a blood test, is not influenced by day-to-day variations in blood chemistry due to stress, diet, or other factors as it shows mineral accumulation over three months. It also has the added bonus of revealing heavy metal toxicity you may have that your body has excreted into your hair. I can’t stress enough the value of this program in replenishing your body’s nutrients, detoxifying your body from industrial chemicals and heavy metals and healing your entire body. It truly is amazing. I cannot begin to describe the improvement in my health I am enjoying. For the program to be effective, you will need to do hair mineral retests every 3-4 months and change your supplements and diet accordingly until you are in balance. This can take 2-3 years. I HIGHLY recommend Mineral Power program using a hair mineral analysis. The best way to improve your health is with a custom supplement program tailored to your individual need.
- You can have your naturopathic doctor do a vitamin/mineral blood panel once a year to see if you are deficient in any nutrients and take their advice on how to correct that deficiency. However, blood tests have drawbacks in that the blood has to be kept at a very narrow range of many vitamins and minerals. The blood is the most important fluid in the body and must keep minerals in very narrow ranges. This is why it’s not a good medium in which to test for mineral levels. It does not reflect mineral levels in your surrounding tissues, brain, organs, and bones. This is why I prefer the hair mineral analysis to test for minerals. However, the hair mineral analysis is just that and is limited to minerals and heavy metals. So, it can be wise to test for vitamin deficiencies with your doctor. The most common vitamin deficiencies are vitamin D and B12.
- Dysfunctional gut flora contributes to poor vitamin absorption, poor immunity, and compromises health. Many vitamins are made by our gut flora including vitamin K, B vitamins, etc. Eight-five percent of your immune system is located around your intestines. If your intestines are not healthy, you are not healthy. Sadly, due to eating a lifetime of sugar, flour, processed foods, and taking antibiotics and other medications, many people have unhealthy gut flora, creating or contributing to health problems. One of the most profound books I have read on health and nutrition is Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I strongly urge you to read this life-changing book.
- While you’re at it, a parasite test is not a bad idea. You may have an uninvited guest at dinner, eating your veggies and supplements. Infrared saunas are a great way to rid your body of parasites. They don’t tolerate heat well.
Here are a few tips to make your supplement regimen more effective.
- Some people can be allergic to food-based vitamins. For these individuals, synthetic vitamins will work just fine. Start a natural vitamin and see how you feel. Allergic reactions can include rashes, runny nose, fatigue, headache, nausea, etc.
- Avoid Kirkland, membership club and large store chain generic supplements completely! The problem with this brand is that they are made in China and have inactive ingredients that are very toxic. Inactive ingredients in Kirkland supplements include Croscarmellose Sodium, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Silicon Dioxide, Magnesium Stearate (Not from plant), Stearic Acid, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Hypromellose, Artificial Vanilla Flavor, Polyethylene Glycol, and Carnauba Wax. Many chemists say these ingredients are toxic and are borderline neurotoxins.
- A once a day vitamin is a waste of money. You can only absorb so many nutrients at a time. For instance, you can only absorb 500mg of vitamin C at a time. So, if you only take a multivitamin once a day, with your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C all at once, only 500mg will be absorbed and the rest excreted. A good multi must be taken 2-4 times a day. Deal with it.
- Do not take megadoses of any particular vitamin or mineral without first consulting your doctor. High doses of individual vitamins or minerals can cause toxicity symptoms, and may interfere with the absorption of medications and other vitamins and minerals. Multivitamins offer a balanced way to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals and make it less likely you will become deficient in the nutrients they contain. One exception is vitamin C, which may be taken in higher individual doses if you are sick or under stress. Be sure to take vitamin C two hours before or after consuming B12 supplements or foods containing B12 (meat, fish, eggs, cheese) to avoid preventing absorption of the B12.
- Most supplements should be in capsule form. The binders most companies use to make pills do not digest. In fact, most are expelled in your stool whole! Obviously, this means you did not reap the benefit of your expensive supplement. However, supplements pressed into pills, like chlorella, are not made with binders. They are just pressed into a pill shape. If you’re not sure, call the manufacturer and ask.
- Be sure to switch your multivitamin or any other supplement every few months so you avoid developing an allergy to them. Just like if you ate a burrito at every meal for months, your body would start rejecting them even though they are oh so good. Change it up.
- Take your multivitamin before you eat. This way you remember to take your vitamins and you fill up a bit on the water. If you wait until after, you’re usually too full and may not want to take them or end up feeling overly full.
- Natural vitamins can be taken on an empty stomach because they are food. Some find that synthetic vitamins upset their stomach if taken without food.
- Avoid supplements that contain soy, unless they are organic. If it’s not organic, the soy is likely GMO, genetically modified, as 90% of worldwide soy is genetically modified. Animals fed GMO’s have lower immunity, lowered infertility or complete infertility in themselves or their offspring, and have damaged organs, while many simply die. If you eat GMO’s, the same thing will likely happen to you, too. If you’re not sure if your supplement has GMO soy, call the manufacturer and ask.
- Women and men over 35 should generally avoid vitamins with iron. Supplemental iron can become toxic and is usually in a form that the body does not absorb well. Daily iron supplementation is not needed by most adults. In fact, one of the main ways children are poisoned and die is from ingesting supplements containing iron. You get enough iron by eating pastured grass-fed red meat once a week.
- Magnesium stearate fears are are overblown. This is a material that is used to prevent pills from sticking together during manufacture. Many reputable manufacturers use plant-derived magnesium stearate. This is better than synthetic magnesium stearate used lot of manufacturers. Reduce your fear of maggie stearate by reading Chris Kresser’s article on Magnesium Stearate.
- Try to avoid capsules made of gelatin. Many reputable companies make their supplements using gelatin, but I wanted to give you a little heads up about potential ingredients in this material. Gelatin is made from beef, pork hides, bones, marrow, and tissue scraps, including diseased organs and tumors. A frightening aspect of any animal product is the potential for traces of animal feed toxins (GMO’s and pulverized diseased animals fed back to animals), hormones, and animal pathogens like mad cow disease. Even if you’re not vegetarian, this is pretty unappetizing.
- Avoid time-release products. They are in binders that don’t actually release the entire supplement. You’re just going to have to choke down that pill three times a day. No regulations require supplement makers to prove their products are time-released as advertised.
- Avoid high potency products. This is a marketing claim for manufacturers to differentiate their product.
- Avoid sweeteners found in supplements as sucrose, fructose, sorbitol, maltodextrin and maltose (made from GMO corn). All these are chemically synthesized and are extremely harmful as they fuel viruses, bacteria, and cancers. Most liquid vitamins contain sweeteners to disguise the horrible taste of vitamins.
- Avoid colorful vitamins (and colorful medications). Artificial colors are added for marketing purposes. Some are derived from natural sources like beets (most of which are now GMO), carrots, or chlorophyll, but most are toxic synthetics derived from petroleum. Many of these dyes, such as FD&C reds and yellows have a direct link to cancer development. If you need to take a medication and don’t want the dyes, you can have a compounding pharmacy make your medication.
- Store your supplements in a cool, dry place and out of the sun. Don’t store them in your car or in hot and damp places like the kitchen and bathroom. They lose their potency when heated or moisturized in a steamy bathroom.
- A good probiotic can increase absorption rates of nutrients by 50%. Additionally, probiotic bacteria produce many vitamins including the vitamin B complex, K, biotin and many other substances in the body. This is why starving people manage to stay alive – the gut bacteria produce vitamins. Your health depends upon the health of your colon. Take a good probiotic or eat fermented foods (which contain trillions of probiotics) daily. For more information, see my article Probiotics – The Foundation of Health.
- It is advisable to take one day off a week from your supplement regimen to give your body a break. You can, however, continue to take your multivitamin and minerals every day.
- You can’t rely on a vitamin supplement to make up for an unhealthy diet. They should be looked at as insurance to get the major vitamins we didn’t get in our diet. There are more than 20,000 different antioxidants in our diet, many of which have yet to be discovered. These cannot all be put in a pill. Eat some organic meats, vegetables, and fruit people. Puh-lease!
If you know of great natural vitamins, please let me know in a comment below. I’ll add them to the list!
The Medicinal Supplements Summit
Did you know that of the 54,000 dietary supplement products sold today, only a third have some level of safety and effectiveness that is supported by scientific evidence? Many supplements, even organic ones, are contaminated with toxic metals like lead, cadmium and arsenic. You could be taking supplements that are actually doing more harm than good!
That’s why I’m hosting the Medicinal Supplements Summit, taking place from September 12 – 19!
This amazing online summit is dedicated to educating consumers on healthy supplementation and the latest in supplement customization testing. Join me and over 35 like-minded health professionals – including doctors, supplement manufacturers, and best selling authors – who are dedicated to helping you HEAL.
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My deepest hope is that you and your family experience vibrant health. And it all begins with taking the right supplements for YOU. So mark your calendars and join us for the Medicinal Supplements Summit September 12-19th! I’ll see you there!
1. Clement, Brian. vitamins, vitamin supplements, Natural Vitamins, Best Synthetic Multivitamins, Best Natural Multivitamins, Why You Need a Multivitamin, Vitamin Deficiency, Probiotics, Kirkland supplements, Infrared saunas, get rid of parasites” Supplements Exposed. Franklin Lakes: Career Press, 2010.
2. Clement, Brian. The Vitamin Myth Exposed. Franklin Lakes: Career Press, 2011.
3. When NOT to take your Multivitamin. vitamins, vitamin supplements, Natural Vitamins, Best Synthetic Multivitamins, Best Natural Multivitamins, Why You Need a Multivitamin, Vitamin Deficiency, Probiotics, Kirkland supplements, Infrared saunas, get rid of parasites” http://www.mercolashop.com/multi-vital-minerals/
4. Synthetic vs. Natural vitamins. http://www.nutriteam.com/