Americans spend millions of dollars on vitamin supplements every single day, in the hope of replacing the nutrients we don’t get from our diets even when we are eating supposedly healthy foods. But do we really know what we are getting when we buy vitamin supplements?
What Are Vitamin Supplements?
Crystalline vitamins are derived from natural sources, but have been chemically treated, with solvents, heat, and other distillation methods to reduce them down to one specific pure crystalline vitamin or amino acid, and hence they are no longer completely natural.
Finally, synthetic vitamins are created in a laboratory by scientists, who reconstruct the exact crystalline structure of vitamin molecules by combining them from other sources. Chemically, there is no difference between synthetic and crystalline vitamins. But, these vitamins are lacking in the other substances that are found in nature, that work with vitamins to make them complete when the body puts them to use. Of course, most vitamins today are synthetic because of the substantial cost savings to the manufacturer in the production process.
The reason these distinctions are important is that some vitamins, no matter how perfectly duplicated in the laboratory, are simply not as effective as their natural counterparts, and none of them contain all the things nature intended to accompany them. So, we end up having to take them in larger doses to get as close to the same effect as the natural counterpart. Of course this leads to it’s own problems since some vitamins are actually toxic at higher dosages, and in some cases, it’s just throwing money away to increase the dosage, because the body rids itself of what it can’t use.
All vitamins in their natural state occur in complexes. “Complexes” comes from the word complexus, meaning interlaced or intricate, which means puzzling, detailed parts. Vitamin complexes are composed of various interconnecting parts that function together as a whole.
One example of this phenonmenon is Vitamin E. Researchers have long known that natural vitamin E, milligram for milligram, is about 36 percent more potent than the synthetic form of the vitamin. In fact, the “international unit,” or IU, standard was developed to compensate for these differences.
In the study, Burton and his American colleagues gave five healthy men and women a single 30 mg dose of vitamin E, which was half natural and half synthetic. A month later, the same people took an identical vitamin E supplement for eight days. Another five subjects took a single 300 mg dose of vitamin E, which was also half natural and half synthetic. A month later, they took an identical vitamin E supplement for eight days.
By biochemically labeling the natural and synthetic vitamin E supplements, Burton and his colleagues were able to tell them apart and to also distinguish dietary vitamin E. While natural and synthetic vitamin E were absorbed equally well through the digestive tract, the liver selected for the natural form over the synthetic: blood levels of natural vitamin E were consistently twice those of the synthetic form.
“What we found was that blood and organ levels of natural vitamin E were almost double those of synthetic vitamin E, and they were consistently so,” Burton explained. “The beauty of this study design is that each participant served as both a control and experimental subject.”
Tissue levels of natural vitamin E – based of organs removed during surgery – also increased compared with the synthetic. However, it appeared to take at least a year or two for the 2:1 natural-to-synthetic ratio to develop in tissues.
In the other study, Robert V. Acuff, MD, of East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, gave vitamin E supplements – again, half natural and half synthetic – to 15 pregnant women five days before giving birth. At delivery, natural vitamin E levels in the mothers’ blood were consistently double those of the synthetic vitamin. Furthermore, natural vitamin E levels in the placental cords was almost 3.5 times higher than the synthetic form.
The bottom line is that price should not be the primary focus when selecting your vitamin supplements. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and nowhere is that more important than with your health. Remember, “God made naturals – MAN made synthetics.