Why You Might Be Taking Synthetic Vitamins Even If You Don't Take Vitamins

By Julie Sews - 12:18:00 PM

 I recently read the book "Supplements Exposed" by Brian Clement which  basically covers reasons why your supplements may not be as good for you as you thought.  While I did learn a lot about picking the right vitamins and supplements (post to come on that) I surprising learned just as much about my food.  The main argument of this book is that synthetic vitamins are not as good for you as natural vitamins.  I agreed with the author that synthetic vitamins are not a good ideal.  Why risk adding something to your body that might hurt it?  So just buy whole food vitamins if you buy any are your OK right?  Maybe, maybe not.  Chances are your like me and actually have food in your pantry or fridge right now that has been enriched or fortified with synthetic vitamins even if you buy organic food.  So even if your not taking vitamins and eat a healthy diet with organic foods, you might be getting synthetic vitamins without even realizing it.

Even Organic Food Can Have Synthetic Vitamins
When I read the chapter about the history of foods enriched and fortified with synthetic vitamins, the ideal of fortified and enriched foods suddenly started turning sour.  I always thought the more vitamins the better right?  I never would have guessed that could be harmful. 
I ran to my fridge and started looking at labels.  I have been using
Ingredients in Trader Joe's Almond Milk image credit
unsweetened almond and coconut milk for awhile in place of milk, but we still use organic whole milk as well.  They ALL had synthetic vitamins!  What?  Even my organic milk?  Needless to say this was a shock.  I thought I was being being so good!  Even my organic milk had a synthetic vitamin in it! My Trader Joe's almond milk had three synthetic vitamins and their coconut milk had  two (I emailed them a comment about this and am waiting for their response).  When I found this out I figured I'd just have to find a brand that's not fortified.  Well the sad thing is I couldn't.  If anyone knows of one please let me know!  I guess that's even more motivation to scratch this one of my grocery list and make it from scratch too.   I haven't tried yet, but I found a great recipe for almond milk and almond meal I plan to try.  I like that you can get both almond meal and milk out of it (since I use a lot of almond meal in my recipes).  Until then I've decided to use only organic whole milk, since it at least has only one synthetic vitamin in it.

Synthetic VS Natural Vitamins
So what's the big deal?  Why does it matter if vitamins  are synthetic or natural?   Synthetic vitamins are the chemical mirror images of the real, natural versions, but they don't look the same as the real vitamins. Look at the photograph of natural vitamin C and ascorbic acid (synthetic vitamin C), and you'll see that they don't look the same.  One thing that is different is natural vitamins have co factors and transporters that work with the vitamin that synthetics do not.   According to Organic Consumers "A synthetic vitamin can stimulate a cell's metabolism, but it cannot upgrade or replace the cell's components with superior, better quality elements. The results? A degraded cell. Nature always packages vitamins in groups. The vitamins work together for better absorption. For this reason, the body responds to an isolated vitamin in the same way it responds to a toxin." 
How natural vitamin C differs from synthetic image source
When you look at how synthetic vitamins differ from the natural forms is easy to see why you might not want them. Take Vitamin E for example, "As you can see from the structures below, there are three positions on the vitamin E molecule which can be varied to produce a stereoisomeric mixture. When nature makes vitamin E, it makes only the RRR form. But this material is difficult to extract, so a cheaper synthetic form was created. There is, however, a catch-- the synthetic form is a random mixture of stereoisomers."  According to Vita-dose "Isomeric forms of tocopherol can actually prevent retention of natural vitamin E in some tissue types. And moreover, having synthetic vitamin E in your system can even accelerate the elimination of the RRR form by upregulating CYP and P-gp enzymes in your liver. The effects vary widely between tissue and cell types and greatly complicate the pharmacology of vitamin E. For instance, the all-rac, or synthetic, form of vitamin E is known to cause contact dermatitis, while the natural version does not."  Basically what they are saying is that synthetic tocopherol not only gives you less of an effective dose of vitamin E, it also may be interfering with your body's ability to manage the natural form of vitamin E.

You can see here how synthetic vitamin E differs from the natural image source
Really I think it just makes sense to be on the safe side and avoid putting any synthetic vitamins into your body.  If you want to know more about why synthetic vitamins are bad for you check out the links below at the bottom of  this article.

How Can You Tell If It's Natural or Synthetic?
It sounds like for the most part the easiest way to tell if it's natural is to find out where the source is if possible (this is most helpful in choosing supplements).  Nutriteam has a great chart to help you in figuring this out.  With enriched or fortified foods it's harder to tell because you don't know the source.  You basically have to memorize what is the natural and synthetic version of the most common vitamins, because some added vitamins in foods are natural and therefore fine.  The synthetic vitamins you want to be very careful of are the fat soluble vitamins, because they can accumulate in your fat and become toxic.  Here are the natural and synthetic forms of the fat soluble vitamins:
  • Vitamin A   Vitamin A Palmitate is the synthetic version of Vitamin A.  Even small amounts of the synthetic fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A can prove toxic and should be strictly avoided! 
  • Vitamin E   Dl-alpha tocopherol acetate is the synthetic version of vitamin E and the natural  version is RR d-alpha tocopherol acetate
  • Vitamin D  The Synthetic version of vitamin Dis D2, the natural version is D3.
  • Vitamin K The FDA banned the synthetic for K3 in supplements due to it's toxicityK1 and K2 are the natural form and have no upper limit because they have not shown any toxicity.
Foods That Are Often Fortified or Enriched

  • refined flours
  • non dairy "milk" 
  • milk
  • cereals
  • processed foods
The only foods I have been eating that have been eating that have synthetic vitamins is milk and milk alternatives, so I have decided to only use milk when nothing else will do (this is also a good ideal because it spikes your blood sugar, has cow hormones that can act in our own bodies and disrupt our hormone balance and are inflammatory), and to make my own almond milk from raw soaked almonds (to get rid of phytic acid which blocks the absorption of minerals).
For more info check out Vitamin Myth Exposed  by Dr. Brian R. Clement
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