Most folks are not aware that aside from those found naturally in food, almost all vitamins sold are produced in laboratories.
In most cases the starting material called the “substrate” is a coal tar derivative (derived from petroleum).
As a rough estimate, these account for 99 percent of all vitamins sold and used. That includes vitamin pills as well as those added to foods to “enrich” them.
Except for vitamin C, most other vitamins have a very complex chemical structure. For an example, have a look at the graphic inset in this column.
As you can see, the structure of this vitamin is very complex.
Perhaps the laboratories that produce them get the chemistry correct. But perhaps they don’t. In several cases of the vitamins I researched, the synthetic structure was not exactly the same as the natural version.
It has been shown that if a part of the synthetic vitamin chemistry is not exactly the same as the real vitamin, it might cause some other problems.
For example it might be rejected by the body altogether, or it might be absorbed by the body but be rejected at the cellular level, or worst case scenario it might act as an antagonist blocking the real nutrient.
Unfortunately in those cases, the synthetic vitamin did not function as well in the human body, or was totally ineffective.
Let me clarify another point. In clinical nutrition other substances are vitally important. They are called “synergists”. A synergist can be likened to a helper. They help in the absorption and/or utilization of the vitamin. Synthetically produced vitamins do not contain synergists.
If vitamins were extracted from food, they would be natural and we would not have these problems, but the costs to do this would be prohibitive.
Here are two cases I am aware of in which the synthetic vitamin did not match the natural one.
D-alpha tocopherol is believed to be the functioning part of “vitamin E.”
This chemical cannot be produced in a lab. The product they get is called dl alpha tocopherol and is considered to be at least 33 percent less effective than d alpha.
Since vitamin E was discovered, science has determined it is actually a complex compound of many “tocopherols” and that “gamma” tocopherol may be as important as d-alpha, but it too is not found in the synthetically produced vitamin E.
Other research indicates all the tocopherols may work synergistically together, one needing the other to function correctly. These are only found naturally balanced in food.
The second example I can cite involves the B vitamin called folic acid.
In a Swedish study, a diet high in folic acid helped prevent pancreatic cancer. The results suggest increased intake of folate from food sources, but not from supplements, may be associated with a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer. In other words, when synthetic folic acid was used, it had no such effect.
If nature holds true to form as it usually does then these concepts may hold true for other synthetic vitamins as well.
What then is the solution?
Natural vitamins with all their synergists are found in foods. So why not choose specific foods that are high in “natural vitamins”?
Vitamin A — The richest source of natural Vitamin A is Fish liver oil.
You can buy natural fish liver oil capsules in most supermarkets and Health Food stores.
Vitamin B — There are three great sources of natural vitamin B. Each containing all of the B vitamins, those that have been discovered and those that have yet to be discovered.
They are brewers yeast, which is used in making beer but doesn’t contain alcohol.; rice hull polishings; and liver.
Vitamin C — From what we can discern aside from eating foods such as citrus fruit, acerola cherries and rose hips, synthetic vitamin C seems to function well in human nutrition.
Vitamin D — Once again, the richest natural source of Vitamin D is fish liver oil. (you can buy fish liver oil capsules containing A and D vitamins).
Vitamin E — In nature, Vitamin E can be obtained from numerous plant sources. At present, most natural Vitamin E comes from soybeans.
Each of the above can be obtained from most health food stores.
Why deal with synthetic vitamins with unknown consequences when you can get your nutrients with all their related synergists and correct chemistry by using natural food supplements?
Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes active practice for 41 years; investigative reporting for many years on stations KTRG and KPOI on Hawaii radio and exercise/fitness yoga TV broadcasts on channel KHVH, also in Hawaii. He has written three books and is working on a fourth; a yoga self-help manual “The Doctor Prescribes Yoga.” For more information, go to drftrapani.com.