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Article: The natural vs. synthetic vitamin debate: What you should know

Debata o přírodních a syntetických vitamínech: Co byste měli vědět

The natural vs. synthetic vitamin debate: What you should know

Your body needs a constant supply of vitamins and minerals to function properly, but it cannot produce them on its own. A balanced and wholesome diet is still a great way to get essential nutrients, but relying on food alone can be challenging to get enough vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. It is clear that conventional farming methods have stripped the soil of vital nutrients, making our food less nutritious. So even if you follow a balanced and healthy diet, it may happen that you do not meet the recommended daily intake of some nutrients.

Not to mention the constant demands of a hectic, on-the-go lifestyle, and anxiety and chronic stress that leave most people with no time to prepare and consume a wide variety of nutrients from natural sources.

Today's fast-paced world forces many of us to consume processed and fortified foods because they are more convenient and taste better. Unfortunately, food processing also deprives us of many vital nutrients, contributing to the increasing incidence of vitamin deficiencies, food allergies and chronic diseases.

As our food is now nutrient poor, it is becoming increasingly popular in the health and nutrition world to supplement the missing nutrients with the help of dietary supplements. The market for vitamins and dietary supplements has therefore grown rapidly, offering consumers a dizzying array of options. Among these options, you may have come across the terms "natural" and "synthetic" vitamins.

In this blog, we'll take an objective look at the science behind synthetic and natural nutrients and delve deeper into their differences, how they're made, and their pros and cons to help you make informed decisions about your health and well-being.

What are synthetic vitamins and how are they made?

Synthetic vitamins are dietary supplements manufactured artificially in an industrial or laboratory environment to mimic the way the body absorbs nutrients from food. They are usually produced by chemical processes that involve the extraction, isolation and synthesis of specific vitamin compounds.

You may now be asking, "Are synthetic vitamins bad?".

Although synthetic dietary supplements are made to replicate the function and structure of their natural counterparts, they often lack the full range of nutrients, enzymes and trace minerals found in natural vitamins.

With this in mind, let's get to know the reasons why it would be better to avoid using dietary supplements made from synthetic ingredients.

5 Reasons to Avoid Synthetic Vitamin Supplements

1. Synthetic vitamins do not contain trace minerals, enzymes and cofactors.

Trace minerals, enzymes and cofactors are essential for optimal absorption and utilization of vitamins. These components facilitate chemical reactions and assist in the transfer of essential nutrients across cell membranes. Without these “helper molecules”, synthetic vitamins may not be absorbed efficiently, which limits their effectiveness and can lead to insufficient amounts of nutrients in the body.

2. Synthetic vitamins can cause their deficiency*

Vitamins and minerals work synergistically – that is, their optimal functioning depends on the presence of other substances. For example, vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, and magnesium helps regulate calcium levels in the body. Taking synthetic nutrients without accompanying cofactors can disrupt the balance of these interdependent nutrients, leading to vitamin imbalances or deficiencies*.

3. Synthetic vitamins are not absorbed as easily as natural vitamins*.

Even though synthetic vitamins are presented as “chemically identical” to their natural form, they are not easily recognized by the body*. They may feel, look and taste natural, but synthetic nutrients may not be absorbed the same way your body would absorb natural vitamins*.

Take folic acid and folate as an example.

Although previous studies suggest that folic acid, a synthetic form of folate, is able to provide similar benefits to natural folate, there are fundamental differences in how the body processes the two substances. Folic acid requires conversion to the active form of folate, known as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), before the body can use it effectively. This extra step can lead to inefficient absorption and in some cases even block the absorption of natural folate. Therefore, relying on synthetic folic acid is not the best choice to ensure adequate levels of folate in the body, especially for pregnant mothers. *

4. Synthetic vitamins cannot be ruled out immediately*

Synthetic food supplements often contain high amounts of nutrients. This formulation is based on the assumption that providing higher doses will help ensure that the body receives the nutrients it needs, even if the absorption rate is lower. However, these increased doses can pose potential health risks, as excess vitamins can accumulate and eventually become toxic to the body*.

As you may already know, vitamins are found in both fat-soluble and water-soluble forms. When taken in excess, water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin B are excreted by the kidneys in the form of urine. On the other hand, if you take a fat-soluble vitamin, it won't be excreted very easily and will likely get stuck in fat cells – leading to serious side effects.

For example, if a pregnant mother takes high doses of vitamin A, the risk of the baby developing a birth defect increases.* Therefore, pregnant mothers need to be especially careful when taking vitamin A and should consult a professional about the recommended safe dosage.

5. Synthetic vitamins can become toxic over time*

It is important to note that the FDA does not review dietary supplements before they are on the market, which means that supplement fraud can occur.

Previous studies have found that lack of regulation of commercially sold vitamin supplements has made them unsafe, leading to many recalls and false claims.

Some synthetic dietary supplements may contain more or less nutrients than listed on the label, or may even contain substances that are not listed on the label at all. Taking large amounts of synthetic nutrients can harm your health because excess vitamins and minerals stress the kidneys.* Many synthetic vitamins are also crystalline. Crystals in the bloodstream cause damage and unwanted accumulation of minerals where they are not needed, such as in the joints.*

Another problem with synthetic vitamins is that they contain residual traces of certain solvents and chemical compounds such as acetate, chloroform, hexane, petroleum and glyphosate (a herbicide). No wonder studies link synthetic vitamins to an increased risk of cancer*.

Although these substances are used in production and are not intended to be part of the final product, their presence, even in small amounts, can still pose a health risk. Long-term consumption of synthetic vitamins containing these impurities can lead to a cumulative effect, which, based on studies, raises concerns about their safety and possible carcinogenic effect on human health. When choosing the right vitamins, it's important to choose natural supplements from reputable brands that are third-party tested and FDA approved.

Why are natural supplements better than synthetic vitamins?

Natural dietary supplements are made by concentrating and condensing specific fruits, vegetables and other natural foods into a suitable form that allows the body to obtain the optimal amount of each nutrient in one serving*. They typically contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other compounds found in their food sources, which can offer several advantages over synthetic vitamins:

3 benefits of natural food supplements

1. Synergistic effects and co-nutrients

Natural supplements are full of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds. They all work synergistically, which means they interact with each other to support and enhance various biological processes in the body*.

For example, B vitamins act as cofactors for various enzymes involved in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, while minerals such as magnesium and zinc are essential for energy production and cellular function*.

2. Better absorption and bioavailability*

Studies indicate that the body absorbs vitamins better in their natural form. One of the key advantages of natural supplements over their synthetic counterparts is that they contain concentrated amounts of bioavailable ingredients that can be easily absorbed and utilized by the body. These bioavailable nutrients are often obtained from whole foods and natural sources, making them more compatible with our body's metabolic processes.

Rachel Baker, a registered dietitian and manager of scientific content and communications at GNC, says absorption rates can depend on the presence of other nutrients in the body. Striving for a varied and balanced diet is extremely important because it provides you with an excellent source of essential nutrients, so supplements can target specific biochemical pathways in the body for optimal health.

3. Lower risk of side effects and interactions

Natural supplements are usually made from herbal and natural ingredients and do not contain synthetic chemicals or artificial ingredients, so they are less likely to cause harmful side effects and interactions with other prescription drugs.

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