Some Facts About Synthetic vs Whole-Food Vitamins

Some Facts About Synthetic vs Whole-Food Vitamins

I am probably going to end up on my soapbox in this post because I am pretty passionate about supplementation and the need to understand its value and appropriate place in our lives. First let's frame the discussion. Too often people mistake proper use of nutritional supplements for a pop-one-pill, solve-the-problem approach. You're a blind man up to bat like that. Foolish. In the modern world, we need a broad range but realistic method of creating our diets for optimal health. We can't always get all our required nutrients from food, but we should certainly get the majority of them from food. Supplements are there to fill the gaps, shore up the walls, and ensure the balance is maintained. Supplements are not meant to be a replacement for healthy eating. That will never work. And it is one of the reasons why we have never advocated multi-vitamins at 4 Organics. 

We have posted about the ongoing argument over whether multivitamins are worth taking before and have voiced a strong opinion. In the end though, the debate is somewhat pointless. Here's the logic: when an individual identifies and understands the homeostasis point of their body -- the point at which everything is in balance and health is optimal -- they will understand what an imbalance looks and feels like, and what is needed to address it. If you know your baseline for health, then you identify deficiencies and remedies quickly. That's the essence of proactive health for the modern age. We live in the information age. You have access to a full health workup. Knowing you are deficient in B12, or magnesium, or omega-3's, etc, is easy and allows you to then supplement effectively. Taking a multivitamin is like shooting a fly with a shotgun. Yes you might get the job done that way, but you might not, and who knows the consequences of the all that excess? It's a brutish sledgehammer approach and not very smart.

The foods you eat support your core health. That gives supplements the target-directed role to solve a deficiency or a specific need, like say omega-3 for focus, or B12 for relieve fatigue, or calcium to help you sleep. When imbalances occur in your system for environmental reasons, like stress, toxins, etc, food can not always provide everything you require, and supplements are unequivocally helpful in certain situations. For example, studies show that certain nutrients, like some B vitamins, are equally as useful to the body in a supplement as they are in food, and sometimes more so. Folic acid is known to convert into 5-methyl tetrahydrafolate, which your body can utilize better than food sources of folate.

And here's the important distinction:

If you are using vitamins, minerals, amino acids in supplement form to augment your poor diet, then you have missed the boat entirely.

There is a complex interplay between the complementary compounds found in food, and you need them all to derive the full benefits. To wit, some ingredients in vegetables actually help promote insulin sensitivity and stimulate autophagy (beneficial,) and these effects cannot be replicated by the isolated vitamins, making them a poor general solution to dietary needs. To extend an analogy, the mortar between your bricks is there to reinforce and strengthen. You can't build half your walls from mortar! Give your body the fuel it needs from real food first and foremost. Then, if you need to boost or address a certain deficiency, absolutely turn to supplements.

So what about vitamins and synthetic versus whole food forms?

There are two forms of supplement ingredient sources: synthetic and whole food. Whole food forms come directly from plants, in theory. Synthetic forms are made in a lab. But the stark truth is that when it comes to extracting individual nutrients, they are all isolates in the end. They may have started off as different, but the after production the final result is pretty close, and as far as your body is concerned, they have pretty much the same effect.

The usefulness of the form is the primary concern, but within the constraints of the real world. What do I mean by that?

Here's the reality:

The recommended daily requirement for B1, thiamin, is 1.2 mg/day.  1 cup of lentils provides around 0.35mg of  B1.  This means to get 100% of your RDA of thiamin you would need about 4 cups of lentils.  Hence a 30 serving bottle of a whole food supplement would require 120 cups of lentils tom supply the necessary thiamin. Now multiply that by each ingredient in the formula. Imagine 80 carrots, 30 bunches of spinach, 200 corn cobs, and so on, just to make a month supply of multivitamins. It's simply impractical from whole food alone! And it would be expensive for sure. To create isolates, this just doesn't work. It only works if you are just supplying whole foods: i.e. here's your daily supply of spirulina, or broccoli. That's my idea of the perfect general health supplement. Just dried, concentrated whole foods in their natural state. But more of that later.

Studies clearly show that many nutrients are equally absorbed in synthetic form, and that the digestion of the vitamin in whole food form is still equivalent to the synthetic. In fact, we now know that for the human body, a variety of synthetic versions of vitamins are probably superior to ones you’d find in nature. People often fail to realize that synthetics often have a higher absorbance rate than whole food vitamins. With B12 again, food-source folates are poorly absorbed and extremely sensitive to heat (they're biologically active.) The synthetic form, folic acid, has an absorbance rate of a bit more than 50%, much higher than folate. Niacin is another example, which is converted into circulating NAD at a much higher percentage than from food sources (which are often bound up with other molecules.)

So synthetic vitamins may be called into question, but truthfully that is a result of their use in multivitamins. If vitamins are used where needed, to correct an imbalance or deficiency, then it is about which form gets the job done. But if you are just talking about multivitamins, then not only are whole foods impractical, but either way, whole food or synthetic, it's all just foolish. As I said, you need the actual whole food with all its associated compounds, not just a synthetic isolate combined with yeast and called a whole food form.

To sum up, then, if you are looking for a multivitamin, I say stop being lazy and figure out how to eat properly. Get your diet in order. 99% of multi's are not worth the money, and they're just not the right approach. Your individual physiology must dictate your regimen, not just a one-size-fits-all supplement. Then, if you need to increase a specific vitamin, mineral, enzyme, amino acid, or any other nutrient, certainly consider the whole food form if you prefer, but focus on just what you need.

So how does our company address this synthetic versus whole food issue?

We do not make individual isolate supplements. We use vitamins for specific purposes, playing a role inside a complex formula that is designed to act in your body to achieve a specific effect. That's why we call our products goal-specific supplements. Sometimes, in the context of that role, synthetic forms are perfectly acceptable and the only practical, effective choice.

For instance, a specific amount of a vitamin is sometimes required to activate the effect of another ingredient but there is only so much space in the formula to get it all synergistically correct and active. When we make an energy supplement, or a sleep supplement, to achieve a specific result, synthetic is often the best choice for the job. 

On the flipside, when we make a product for general health benefits, one that is taken regularly as part of your complete diet, we then use whole food sources because these are not isolated nutrients like vitamins. We take whole foods and air dry, water extract, test. and prepare them for encapsulation. We source organics like kale, spinach, spirulina, watercress, pomegranates, berries, and so on, then concentrate them, and create our health supplements.

Check out our GREEN 33 vegetable complex or RESVERAYOUTH fruits complex as examples of these. With the exception of resveratrol, we don't isolate any nutrients.  You are simply deriving optimal adjunct value from foods you otherwise would have a hard time finding and adding to your daily diet. It's not easy finding Hawaiian noni in your local market. These supplements provide a solid amount of real nutrition that fills in gaps where needed.

So I hope I have cleared it up to some degree. If you have a job to do, you want the supplement that gets it done. Goal oriented. If you want to bolster your daily food diet, then you want the whole food source supplement. Otherwise, don't be taken in by supplement companies' song and dance.

Related Posts: 
Are Nutritional Supplements Worth Taking?
The Importance of Being Alkaline - Know Your pH ! 
For the Love of Food, What We Eat Can Heal

daily green superfood supplement

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.

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