Synthetic Sources for Vitamins and Minerals or Whole Foods?

Receiving sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals is essential for optimal health and preventing chronic disease states. These nutrients perform thousands of roles in the body, from building muscle, bone and skin, improving your immune system and converting food into energy. Specific nutrient deficiencies such as Scurvy was discovered in 1747 by James Lind when observing poor vitamin C consumption in the British Royal Navy causing bleeding gums and bulging eyes.

Since these early discoveries science has been busy making synthetic vitamins as a prevention method to poor health and chronic diseases. Today the dietary and supplement industry produces an estimate of $82 billion dollars per year globally. In Australia, the most popular supplement is a multivitamin which increase the demand for a ‘once-a-day’ pill that offers every single nutrient known to man. This concept that ‘more is best’ simply does not apply in formulating a therapeutic multi vitamin. With more research indicating synthetic vitamins are linked to many disease states such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, decreased bone health and breast cancer, a resolution to get back to whole food sources needs to be embraced.

As the general population become more aware of nutrient deficiencies in the soil and foods, it would make sense to take a daily multi-vitamin to ensure adequate levels are met. However, instead of looking at the fundamental source of these vitamins and minerals which is food, we are relying on synthetic sources that are made in labs and it is causing many biological problems. Let’s look at Folate for example. Folates are a cluster of reduced molecules that are found in green leafy vegetables and are important for the detoxifying estrogen, DNA synthesis, cellular renewal and red and white blood cell formation to name a few. Folic acid is a fully oxidized synthetic form made in a lab and is found in fortified foods and most multivitamins. The chemical differences have major implications for the bioavailability and action performed in the body. There are many advantages in natural folates such as their bioavailability is not affected by metabolic defects, they do not affect the 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) polymorphism, they reduce the potential for masking symptoms of B12 deficiency and they prevent potential high levels of inactivated folic acid in the body. Inactive folic acid circulating the body’s peripherals can have alarming effects in the body which can lead to anaemia, cardiovascular disease, decreased immunity and increased risk of dementia. On drawing upon this example, we can start to see how supplementing with the wrong forms of synthetic vitamins can be causing more harm to your body.

Whole foods offer the essential cofactors and the natural variations of vitamins needed to ensure the intended reaction takes place in the body. A good example of this is Vitamin A which is converted in the body from carotenoids. Carotenoids are a large family of compounds that are responsible for the orange, yellow and red pigmentations in our fruits and vegetables. There are over 600 carotenoids that have been identified in whole natural foods however synthetic vitamins focus on alpha carotene, beta carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta cryptoxanthin. What about the other 595+ compounds that we are missing? In a laboratory environment, making these variations will take a lot of time and resources so it’s easier to leave them out. Besides, the average person is only concerned that the label reads, ‘this product contains Vitamin A’. There are many other vitamins that fall under the same category that do not come with their variations and cofactors when found in a synthetic multivitamin.

There are also different variations of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium. Calcium comes in many forms such as calcium carbonate, calcium oxide, calcium citrate and calcium orotate. The bioavailability of these different structures need to be taken into consideration when formulating a multi-vitamin as they can inhibit other vital nutrients or not absorb at all. Calcium carbonate is the most economical compound and mostly used in synthetic multivitamins for this reason. Calcium carbonate is not found in food sources, it is derived from limestone, rocks and shells. The chemical compound is large and with poor availability it has been found to increase the incidence of myocardial infarction by almost 30%. Other minerals that are found in multivitamins hold the same potential to have negative effects in the body due to poor elemental forms that are chosen for many reasons such as economics, lack of knowledge and access to materials.

The Father of medicine Hippocrates nailed it on the head when he said ‘Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food’. Natural whole foods have supplied our bodies with the most therapeutic source of vitamins and minerals since the beginning of time. Think of whole foods as incredible perfect packages of vitamins and minerals that contains all the cofactors to allow the most therapeutic and bioavailable source. Through whole food sources we, obtain the cofactors and the different substrates of particular vitamins that our body can breakdown and as simulate. These vitamins and minerals found in whole foods work synergistically together to improve our health and wellbeing, just as nature intended.

For more information on the above please follow the links below to studies and research: