Clean Label: The Case Against Synthetic Vitamins
There is a lot of talk about the comparative advantages and disadvantages of synthetic versus whole-food vitamins, and there are passionate believers and ardent supporters on both sides within the industry. Those on the side of synthetic vitamins argue that there is no evidence that natural vitamins work or that they are better than synthetic vitamins, and question whether it matters that vitamins are synthetic or whole-food as long as they work as intended to minimize deficiency risk and support good health. Staunch supporters of whole-food vitamins, the kind of vitamins that are concentrated from authentic whole foods, respond that there may not be any scientific evidence that whole-food vitamins work or that they are substantially better, but there is certainly sufficient evidence synthetic vitamins don’t work and that they are not safe.
The lack of quality studies comparing synthetic and whole-food vitamins across measures of bioavailability, absorption, and overall safety makes drawing definitive conclusions about the relative superiority of one form over another extremely difficult. So, we invite you join us as we take a common sense approach to the evaluation of synthetic vitamins as a reliable source of essential nutrients capable of supporting health.
The Common Sense Argument Against Synthetic Vitamins
Vitamins are essential nutrients that must be obtained either from the diet or through supplementation because the body cannot synthesize them in the quantities needed to maintain optimal health. Each vitamin has a specific physiochemical activity in the body; therefore, one vitamin cannot be used to replace the deficiency of another. USP vitamins, without exception, are chemical isolates, which is not how vitamins occur in nature. Vitamins that occur in nature are present as food-vitamin complexes, whereas synthetic vitamins that are created in a lab are isolated, fractionated, purified, and don’t look anything like natural vitamins.
Some companies, and consumers, argue that taking a multivitamin, even if it is made using synthetic vitamins, is better than not taking a multivitamin at all. And this may well be true, up to a point. There is no doubt that synthetic vitamins, like any other vitamin form, can help fill nutrient gaps in the diet and minimize deficiency risk in the short term. Problem is, they lack the cofactors required for their optimal activity in the body, and this means the body has to draw on its own reserves to get the most out of the vitamins. So, what happens when the body's reserves are depleted? That's where the arguments supporting long-term supplementation with synthetic vitamins becomes murky.
Let’s assume that synthetic vitamins help fill nutrient gaps and minimize deficiency risk. But, what about their safety? Synthetic vitamins are often made using industrial petrochemicals and solvents, which can increase the toxic load on the body. Worse yet, the body may not recognize the isolated nutrient, consider it a foreign body, and target it for removal. Point is, the potential for long-term risk to human health far outweighs any health benefits or cost savings associated with consuming synthetic vitamins in the short term.
Putting the Common Sense Argument to the Test
Consider the choices in the image above. We believe it is pretty safe to assume that most of us would choose vitamins from the food source over their synthetic counterparts. But, what if the body simply cannot tell the difference between synthetic and natural vitamins? Would that be enough to make up for the fact that synthetic vitamins are made using industrial chemicals? Probably not. Well, how about the fact that synthetic vitamins are, on average, cheaper than vitamins from food sources? Not even then? We don’t blame you.
The Food and Drug Administration does not consider vitamins from food better than synthetic vitamins across any of the measures we have discussed so far — bioavailability, absorption, or safety. In fact, the FDA actually considers the synthetic forms to be better because their identity can be validated and stringent lab controls can ensure a consistent and reliable amount of the nutrients in every dose. Just like drugs. And perhaps the FDA and other manufacturers of synthetic vitamins assume that consumers will simply accept the negative effects as the price for minimizing deficiency risk in the short term. Point is, none of us would choose to take a synthetic vitamin if food-source alternatives were easily available and affordable.
At NutriGold, we believe that fresh, organic foods grown locally, picked at the peak of freshness, and consumed mostly raw are the purest, safest, and most bioavailable sources of essential nutrients. But, considering that's not an option for most of us, the next best thing is to get them from supplements that provide essential nutrients from organic, whole-food sources. If that too is not an option, then vitamins from conventional [non-organic] food sources may be an acceptable alternative. The ones that don't make the cut are synthetic, man-made vitamins created in a lab using chemicals and GMOs and fermented vitamins created using those synthetic, chemical vitamins.
Choosing the multivitamin that best meets consumers’ expectations and needs should not be rocket science. And yet, in some ways, it may well be harder than rocket science. Unlike principles that guide rocket science, there is no method to the madness when it comes to how multivitamins are formulated or marketed. Rather than adhering to a standard set of specifications and objectives for what should be included and using language that is clear and appropriate to describe the product’s attributes and features, manufacturers simply go with whatever is trending among consumers at the time. So, while it may appear that consumers have limitless choices when it comes to multivitamins, the reality is that most of these “choices” are merely new twists on an old tale.
Stacking the Clinical Evidence
Ten Reasons We Steer Clear of Synthetic Vitamin Isolates
Consider, for example, the most common buzz words used to market multivitamins — natural, food-based, food-grown, food-created, food-state, raw code, code factors, and whole-food. While some of these are “made up” words with no formal definition, others like food-sourced and whole-food have been misused, overused, and abused so much that they have been rendered pretty much irrelevant to the decision-making process. The only hope for consumers is the possibility that the FDA or industry trade organizations will eventually respond to consumer demand for clarity and consensus by creating guidelines that standardize the formulating and labeling of multivitamin products. In the meantime, we hope our multivitamin labeling review will help clarify the source and composition of different multivitamin formulations commercially available, as well as the labels that are used to market them.