Synthetic vs Food based Vitamins

There is a big debate out there whether you should be taking natural or synthetic vitamins. Previously, I had written a blog post trying to convince people to avoid synthetic vitamins, but I’ve changed my position on this issue. Learn about the debate behind synthetic vs food based vitamins.

While food-based vitamins sound like a really good idea, many people have problems with food-based vitamins. There can be ingredients in them that cause some people problems. I personally am taking synthetic vitamins with a few food-based supplements and am getting flying colors on my hair mineral analysis and vitamin tests.

Synthetic Vitamins

I have taken synthetics vitamins for years and have seen my health greatly improve. I have now switched to mainly food-based vitamins and I believe they are superior, but synthetics do work. Many healing programs use synthetic vitamins with fantastic results. My mineral levels have increased and I’ve experienced more vitality and energy — all from synthetics.

Then there is the issue of absorption. Absorption depends upon many factors. 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. One must avoid cheap mass-market synthetics like Centrum, most brands at drug store chains, grocery store chains, and membership club stores (Kirkland brand) because they contain these cheap binders that prevent their absorption. Commonly, vitamins and mineral are in forms that are not absorbable, but this can be circumvented by educating yourself on the forms that are the best absorbed and buying from reputable manufacturers, whom I’ve listed below. People absolutely see their vitamins and mineral levels improve with synthesized vitamins and minerals.

A common issue with synthetics is whether they cause immune system reactions that lower your immunity. Any supplement can cause a reaction. This is not necessarily a reason to not take synthetic supplements and does not seem to harm your immune system in any meaningful way. Foods and food-based supplements can cause immune system reactions as well. Many food-based supplements have so many ingredients that sensitive individuals can have sensitivity issues.

Synthetic Vs. Food-based Vitamins

Food-based vitamins will not work for everyone. I believe food-based supplements are better than synthetics and should be taken if you tolerate them. Again, it’s the old adage: everyone is different. You have to find what supplements work for you. I’ve compiled a nice comparison of some of the pros and cons of food-based vitamins in comparison to synthetic vitamins:

1) Most food-based supplements contain synthetic vitamins. Some claim to be all natural, but use yeast or algae or other food as a base and simply add synthetic vitamins to this ‘food’ base. 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. An example of a natural base is Acerola cherry or rosehip, to which synthetic vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is added. The food-based vitamins I recommend do not use this loophole and are high quality, but this is something to watch out for. For instance, the Whole Foods Brand is not a true food-based vitamin and uses algae as their base with synthetic vitamins added to the product. This is the norm rather than the exception with food-based vitamins.

2) Food-based vitamins can also be isolated. While some food-based supplements are pure whole foods, many are isolates extracted from their whole food base. For example, a food-based chromium made from yeast is still an extract or isolate. This same chromium can be put into a synthetic or a food-based supplement. Even a food-based vitamin C is extracted or isolated from a plant such as the Acerola cherry. In some cases, the entire food is dehydrated and put into a capsule, but this is not always the case. The word isolate can apply to both food-based and synthesized products.

3) Food-based vitamins cost more. Food-based vitamins are almost always more costly than synthetics, even two to three times as expensive. This is understandable, as it is much more costly to manufacture food-based supplements. Vegetables and other foods must be harvested, dried, measured, tested and powdered into capsules. Food-based supplements also can be far more costly because more pills are needed to achieve the same dose. For instance, a natural vitamin C I used to take only contained 120mg of vitamin C, causing me to have to take 4 capsules to get 500mg of vitamin C. The bottle of 90 capsules cost $20. The same bottle of synthetic vitamin C costs far, far less.

4) Dosages are too low in food-based products. 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. Most cannot remember to or are not willing to take more than 4+ pills a day in divided doses to satisfy their nutrient needs.

5) Sensitivities to foods or fillers in food-based products. Some companies put oat flour, potato starch other fillers in their tablets. The problem is that many people are sensitive to all gluten-containing foods. Others are sensitive to nightshades. 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.

6) Inexact dosages. Food-based products pose problems with obtaining the exact amount desired nutrients, coupled with the difficult in controlling undesirable nutrients in the products. When combined in a food or even an herbal product, one is getting the desired nutrient, but also getting extra nutrients that often counteract or antagonize the desired nutrient. Important nutrients may be omitted or others included because that is the only way to obtain the correct amount of the desired nutrient. For example, suppose we wish to take 25 mg of zinc to a person. In a food-based product, the zinc will be combined in a food or herbal form that most likely contains a little copper, manganese, selenium, chromium and other minerals. However, the other minerals directly compete with zinc for absorption. So, no matter what the label says, you will not be getting the same amount of zinc as you would if there were no antagonistic or competing nutrients present. Additionally, food-based vitamin companies may add herbs to their products without realizing that the minerals in the herbs can and do also compete with the desired advertised mineral in the product. This can also reduce the effective dose of the desired mineral.

7) Food-based vitamins are not always better absorbed. This is not the case with every person or every nutrient. Absorption depends upon many factors. 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. 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.

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:

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 blog post 90% of Vitamins are Synthetic. Some of the best natural food-based brands are:

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 blog post 90% of Vitamins are Synthetic.

Why You Need to Supplement

I cannot stress enough why you need to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Our modern food supply is severely deficient in nutrients, mainly minerals. In fact, a head of broccoli grown today has 20% of the mineral content that it contained in the 1920’s. The reasons you need to supplement are due to many factors:

1) You are born nutrient depleted and toxic. No matter how healthy our lifestyle, we are born with the nutritional deficiencies and heavy metal and chemical toxicity of our mothers. These toxins are easily passed from mother to child in the womb.

2) Soil is depleted. Many soils are low in zinc, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, calcium and magnesium. No matter what diet you eat, you cannot obtain all the nutrients you need from food.

3) High-yield crops are deficient in certain nutrients. Soils, even at organic farms, become depleted of vitamins and minerals after years of cultivation. For example, ten times the amount of wheat is grown on the same land as was grown 100 years ago. Today’s wheat contains about 6% protein whereas 100 years ago it contained 12-14%. Trace mineral levels are similarly much lower due to high-yield farming methods.

4) Modern fertilizers do not supply enough trace minerals. One hundred years ago, manure was used for fertilizer. Today, chemicals fertilizers are used but contain mainly nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, but are deficient in the trace elements found in manure. This has contributed greatly to depletion of the soil and crop minerals. Organically grown food is generally more nutrient-rich because it is grown on better quality soil with proper farming methods and fertilization, but this is not always the case. Almost invariably, all the produce grown at every farmer’s market in Los Angeles is grown using chemical fertilizers. I know — I’ve asked every vendor.

5) Pesticides deplete soils. Pesticides kill soil microorganisms that are needed to make minerals and other nutrients available to plants. The result is lower nutrient content. Many pesticides are deadly chemicals that severely tax the human system. Many contain lead, arsenic and other toxic metals that slowly accumulate in the body unless one detoxifies from them. Our laws currently allow sewage and factory sludge to be sold as fertilizer that contain significant amounts of toxic metals. These add greatly to our toxic metal burden and require extra nutrients to help remove them from the body. Additionally, many pesticides work by chelating minerals out of weeds to kill them. They die of malnutrition. The same effect is at work inside your body when you eat pesticide residues.

6) Long-distance transportation. 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. Many foods are grown thousands of miles from where they are purchased. Some are grown on the other side of the planet! On average, they spend a week in transit to reach you. Because of this, produce is picked before it is fully ripe, preventing maximum nutrient potential. The minute food is picked nutrient levels begin to diminish. Grow your own garden and eat veggies while they’re still alive!

7) Food processing reduces nutrient content. Refining of wheat to make white flour removes 80% of its magnesium, 70-80% of its zinc, 87% of its chromium, 88% of its manganese and 50% of its cobalt. Refining sugar cane to make white sugar removes 99% of its magnesium and 93% of its chromium. Polishing rice removes 75% of its zinc and chromium. Even foods that are in whole grain form still suffer from nutrient deficiency if they are ground into flour, processed, boxed, shipped, and stored for any significant period of time. Frozen foods are nutritionally better but not as good as fresh vegetables. It’s always best to eat foods as close to their original, minimally processed form as possible. For instance, eat a fresh strawberry, not a dried one.

8) Food additives can further deplete nutrients.  Thousands of artificial flavors, colors, flavor enhancers, dough conditioners, and preservatives are added to foods. While some are harmless, many are toxic and deplete the body of nutrients. For example, EDTA added to some frozen vegetables to preserve the color of the vegetable does so by removing minerals from the vegetable so it does not “tarnish.”

9) Weakened digestion. One result of eating refined, low-quality food with hundreds of food additives is that most people’s digestion is impaired. This further impairs nutrient absorption and increases nutritional needs. It’s a vicious cycle that continues as long as one eats a poor quality diet. Additionally, eating a lot of sugar and wheat flour depletes your body of vitamin and minerals. It takes 56 molecules of magnesium to process one molecule of sugar.

10) Stressful lifestyles deplete many nutrients including calcium, magnesium and zinc.  Zinc begins to be eliminated from the body within minutes of a stressful situation. Stress causes excessive sympathetic nervous system activity, which reduces digestive strength. This, in turn, reduces nutrient absorption even further. Thus, anyone under stress will need even more nutrients than someone that lives a very peaceful existence.

You can take synthetic vitamins or food-based vitamins to fill in the blanks of your nutritional needs. But by all means, take something! My goal with Myers Detox is to illustrate how to live a healthy life within the context of our modern toxic environment and navigate all the health myths fed to us my manufacturers and the pharmaceutical companies. Taking supplements is definitely part of the program.

Do you have an opinion about synthetic versus food-based and natural vitamins? Have I left anything out of this article? Have you had problems with either of these types of vitamins? I want to know! Tell me your story by leaving a comment below.

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!SUPP16_banner_attend_600x600

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!

Click Here for References+

1. Wilson, Lawrence, MD. Food-Based Supplements Versus Others. December 2009.
2. ** Why Take Nutritional Supplements? July 2008.
3. Askew, Gloria. The Secrets of Supplements: The Good, the Bad, the Totally Terrific.Phyte Media Inc, 2008.

in Articles/Supplements/Survive

Dr Wendy Myers, ND is a detox expert, functional diagnostic nutritionist, NES Bioenergetic Practitioner, and founder of She is the #1 bestselling author of Limitless Energy: How to Detox Toxic Metals to End Exhaustion and Chronic Fatigue . Additionally, Wendy is the host of The Heavy Metals Summit, the Myers Detox Podcast, and the Supercharged Podcast. Passionate about the importance of detox to live a long and healthy life, she created the revolutionary Myers Detox Protocol , and Mitochondria Detox kit after working with thousands of clients, as well as a range of supplements to help you detox from everyday living and maintain a healthy lifestyle!

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Tess Balingit
Tess Balingit
10 years ago

Thank you for sending me this! Love Chicken

10 years ago

Unfortunately all absorbic acid (vitamin c) in the USA is created using gmo sources. This makes me sad. However I do take a multivitamin supplement and it has absorbic acid in it. Not much I can do about that at this time.

Wendy Myers
10 years ago
Reply to  Omgirl

About 90% of the ascorbic acid is made in china. Four pharmaceutical companies there are trying to monopolize the market. Not a much better option!

10 years ago
Reply to  Wendy Myers

I’m not very trusting of anything coming out of china lol. Well I trust the people just not the products haha. I like my vitamins comings from my food and only eat local organic produce (as much as possible) but since I’m vegan I need to get b12 just for safety and for the reasons you stated about the soil quality and all that. I wish I didn’t have to

Wendy Myers
10 years ago
Reply to  Omgirl

Exactly! I won’t touch any food or product from china. Too many instances of heavy metal or other toxin contamination. It’s hard to tell where your supplements are coming from. All the Kirkland brands are made in china but repackaged to look like they’re made in the US. Scary!

10 years ago

I’ve been researching the synthetic v. food-based issue and came across your video which confused me somewhat. You mentioned that oats and potatoes contain gluten. (#5, Sensitivities to foods, etc.) Neither oats nor potatoes have naturally occurring gluten. Oats are sometimes cross-contaminated with gluten from other sources, but they are not a gluten containing food. In your discussion, you also did not mention some of the substances that are used to manufacture synthetic vitamins which include cyanide, coal tar and petrochemicals which are used to make B vitamins. GM substances are also used to make synthetic vitamins. It’s hard to take your information seriously when there are indications that it’s not credible.

9 years ago

HOw can Wendy do a complete reversal with a straight face without mentioning that she obviously did not do her research prior to her previous positions! Jeeze! So what’s next in your evolution?

Wendy Myers
9 years ago
Reply to  shiikis

FYI, this was the VERY first article I had ever written. I did not do a complete reversal. I merely saw the light when it comes to food-based vitamins and synthetics. There is a place for both in health. There is so much positive information about food-based vitamins that it’s easy to think that synthetics are all bad. But the truth is that many of my clients cannot tolerate food-based vitamins, people with leaky gut have issues with food-based vitamins because there are too many ingredients. So, while food-based are great for most, synthetics will have to work for some people. Synthetics have their place. I’m not ashamed to admit I made a mistake or printed information that may not be 100% correct. I’m human.

Josh Logan
Josh Logan
9 years ago

I just wanted to thank you for posting the list of vitamin manufacturers at the end of the article. A couple months ago I spent days searching for a multi that wasn’t mega-dosed. I finally found one (Vitamin Shoppe brand), but became weary of the brand after: (a) the bottle I received had a grossly different label than the one displayed on their website and (b) reading numerous reports of excessive lead content in some of their products. I’m going to give Synergy’s Two-a-Day a shot and see how that goes. Thanks again.

9 years ago

Hi I also anted to thank you for this article. It really helped me to understand what I was buying, especially when most people just think of food based to be one big happy place. A well balanced and thought out article. Thank you

7 years ago

Good informative blog piece you have changed my mind about synthetic vitamins.