There are several ways to get the vitamins and minerals necessary for good health.
While the best practice is to eat a healthy, well-rounded diet, there are times that supplements are necessary. In such cases, there are two types of vitamins available to consumers—natural and synthetic—and there are good reasons to offer each type in your practice.
What’s the difference?
As you may expect, natural or organic vitamins are made from plant material that naturally contains the vitamin being supplemented. For example, vitamin E is derived from vegetable oils, and vitamin C is found in oranges, along with several other plants.
Synthetic vitamins are “produced in a laboratory from coal-tar derivatives” according to the Vitamins and Nutrition Center. The majority of vitamin supplements available on the market today are synthetic.
A look at natural, organic vitamins
As you might expect, there is some controversy about which type of supplement is superior. On one hand, natural health authorities and experts tout the benefits of organic vitamins, and in some respects, they are correct.
Those who claim that organic vitamin supplements are better do so in large part because with the natural plant source, co-factors are present. A good example is vitamin C. When vitamin C was first isolated and synthesized, researchers were not aware of bioflavonoids and so supplements did not contain them. In nature, vitamin C is always accompanied by bioflavonoids and researchers eventually discovered that bioflavonoids are critical for proper absorption of vitamin C.
However, there are negatives to natural vitamins, as well. One of the most alarming is that the facilities that produce them are not required to follow the stringent licensure and inspection requirements of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). The ingredients of natural vitamins are not necessarily pure, and therefore there is greater risk of contamination.
The advantages of synthetic vitamins
Those who are proponents of synthetic vitamins argue that vitamins are simply chemicals, and regardless of how the chemical is derived, if the molecular structure is the same, then it will behave the same in the human body. Of course, this argument ignores the fact that sometimes in nature, as in the case of the bioflavonoids and vitamin C, other chemicals accompany those being isolated in a laboratory.
Yet, there are positive aspects of synthetic vitamin production, including the purity factor. Synthetic vitamins are produced under strict regulation, which provides some protection from the risk of contamination. However, those who are opposed to synthetic vitamins point out that other chemicals are sometimes used, and though they have been found safe by the USP, they do not occur naturally in any of the foods humans have evolved to eat.
Obikoya G. “Natural Vitamins vs. Synthetic.” The Vitamins & Nutrition Center. http://www.vitamins-nutrition.org/vitamins/natural-vitamins-synthetic.html. Updated May 2015. Accessed May 2015.