Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Vitamin supplements are a necessity for most people, but most vitamin products are ineffective and not worth what you pay for them. It is very difficult to obtain enough nutrients from our diet alone. A study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal,found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19 percent; iron 22 percent; and potassium 14 percent. Yet another study concluded that one would have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamin A as our grandparents would have gotten from one. Modern industrial crops are grown for a high yield and fast growth, rather than for nutrient content. As a result, nutrients have declined in our food supply, since crops today often have fewer nutrients than their older counterparts. There have also been decreases in protein, iron, potassium, calcium, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, zinc, selenium, and other essential nutrients in many conventionally grown fruits, vegetables, and grains. Now, 38 years on and the nutrients have declined even more.
We need to bridge that gap. But don't rush out to the health shop and buy a bottle of synthetic vitamins. Read this first.
Currently, over half of the US population takes synthetic nutrients such as multivitamins. However, there has been much debate over whether synthetic nutrients provide the same benefits as natural nutrients. Some sources even suggest that synthetic nutrients may be dangerous.
What Are Synthetic and Natural Nutrients?
Here's the difference between natural and synthetic nutrients:
Natural nutrients: These are obtained from whole food sources in the diet.
Synthetic nutrients: Also referred to as isolated nutrients, these are usually made artificially, in an industrial process. The majority of supplements available on the market today are made artificially. These include vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and amino acids, among others.
Synthetic nutrients do not include "whole food supplements," which are made from concentrated, dehydrated whole foods.
The majority of supplements available on the market today are made artificially. These include vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and amino acids, among others.
They can be taken in pill, capsule, tablet, powder or liquid form, and are made to mimic the way natural nutrients act in our bodies.
To figure out if your supplement is synthetic or natural, check the label. Natural supplements usually list food sources or are labeled as 100% plant based.
Supplements that list nutrients individually, such as vitamin C, or use chemical names like ascorbic acid, are almost certainly synthetic.
Are Natural and Synthetic Nutrients Different?
The production process of synthetic nutrients is very different to the way plants and animals create them. So despite having a similar structure, your body reacts differently to synthetic nutrients.
Additionally, it's unclear how well synthetic nutrients are absorbed and used in the body. Some may be more easily absorbed, not others.
This is because when you eat real food, you're not consuming single nutrients, but rather a whole range of vitamins, minerals, co-factors and enzymes that allow for optimal use by the body. Without these additional compounds, synthetic nutrients are unlikely to be used by the body in the same way as their natural counterparts.
For example, studies show that natural