Taking vitamin supplements may seem like the norm nowadays but before you reach for a bottle at the pharmacy, keep in mind that not all brands making vitamin supplements are what they claim to be. A lot of times, even if the label says “all natural”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is made with only natural ingredients. In order to increase the vitamin’s potency and stability, many manufacturers of dietary supplements use synthetic materials as well.
It’s important that you learn to differentiate between natural vitamins and their synthetic counterparts. Some of the synthetic materials that manufacturers use have harmful effects on the body in the long run.1
What Are Synthetic Vitamins?
Synthetic vitamins are made in a lab to imitate the way that their natural counterparts act on the body. Although they are meant to benefit us in the exact same way that natural vitamins benefit us, the truth is that they aren’t always able to. Synthetic vitamins only provide “isolated” pieces of the whole vitamin. By “isolated” we mean that they don’t have the co-factors, transporters, enzymes, and minerals that naturally occurring vitamins come with. Without these, the body will not recognize and use the vitamins as it would use naturally occurring vitamins.
When you take synthetic vitamins, it may mean that you are getting high doses of a certain vitamin but not getting sufficient amounts of others. So instead of making use of these high dosages, isolated vitamins are either stored until the body gets the nutrients required to use them effectively or are expelled from the body.
Since the isolated vitamins don’t have the necessary trace minerals with them, it uses the body’s mineral reserves which could lead to the body facing a deficiency of the mineral.
What Are Natural Vitamins?
When vitamin supplements are derived from whole foods, it is known as natural vitamins. These will be completely sourced from food sources (whole vegetables, fruits, and herbs), with no artificial or synthetic vitamins added at all. When you take natural vitamins you will benefit from other naturally occurring nutrients as well, providing a “whole” vitamin solution.
What You Need To Look For In A Vitamin Label
Here are some tips you can use to know what to look for in a vitamin or mineral supplement:
1. Differentiate “Natural” From “100% Natural”
Do not be fooled by just the word “natural” on the label. Manufacturers can claim that their product is “natural” if even 10 percent of the ingredients have natural food sources. That’s why you should ensure that the vitamin you pick up says “100 percent plant-based” or “100 percent animal-based” on the label.2
2. Remember, Natural Vitamins Come From Natural Food Sources
If the vitamin is synthetic, you will find particular nutrients instead of whole foods mentioned in the ingredient list. For example, if you find “vitamin C” in the ingredient list rather than “acerola cherry powder” which contains vitamin C, it probably means that the vitamin is synthetic based.
3. Watch Out For Unnaturally High Potency
Usually, only synthetic vitamins have a very high potency level. The potency will be listed on the product’s label. For example, if a vitamin supplement gives 1,000 percent of vitamin C, it can be safely assumed that the vitamin is synthetic is unusually high. This is ten times the amount you need daily and an amount that even a healthy diet — consisting of natural, whole-food sources — cannot provide.
4. Learn To Identify The Red Flag Keywords On The Label
- Learn to recognize certain keywords that stipulate that the supplement is synthetic. Words ending with “ate” or “ide” signify that the product contains salt forms, which are synthetics. Hydrochloride, chloride, nitrate, and acetate are great examples which show that synthetics are used for the product.
- If you find the letters “dl” before the name of an ingredient, it signifies that the supplement is synthetic. For example, dl-alpha tocopherol acetate and dl-alpha tocopherol are synthetic versions of vitamin E.
- When buying a vitamin A supplement, look for “fish oils”. Make sure that the words “acetate” and “palmitate” are not on the label as they are synthetic vitamin A supplements.
- Pteroylglutamic Acid is the synthetic supplement of folic acid
- Dl-alpha tocopherol, dl-alpha tocopherol acetate, and succinate are the synthetic supplements of vitamin E.
- Irradiated ergosterol and calciferol are the synthetic supplements of vitamin D
Tips To Keep In Mind While Supplement Shopping
- Do not take any kind of medications or supplements without consulting your doctor first.
- A pharmacist can determine whether a supplement is natural or synthetic, so make sure you talk to him/her to help you out.
- Make sure that your doctor and pharmacist know about any food or medication allergies that you may have.
- The strength of vitamins vary. Some are higher in strength than others. Your needs should dictate the level that you require. Seek your doctor’s advice on this.
- Look for scientific evidence to support your claim. If the company selling the supplement is making outrageous claims for a miracle cure, make sure there is some research available which supports these claims. Be cautious and check the manufacturer’s website for resources proving that it does what it claims and it is not harmful to you in any way.
Learning how to tell the difference between natural and synthetic vitamins can be confusing at first, but mastering this skill will help you choose a dietary supplement that is best for your health and worth your money.
|↑1||Should you get your nutrients from food or from supplements?. Harvard Medical School|
|↑2||Ayers, Samuel. “Natural vs synthetic vitamins.” JAMA 225, no. 9 (1973): 1124-1124.|