Whole Food or Synthetic Vitamins ~ Does it Really Matter?
There sure are a lot of good reasons to incorporate whole food vitamins into our diets. Work and family make life too busy to prepare food like we should, we need strong immune systems to stay healthy especially during the cold and flu season, and those with chronic illness desire restored health and vigor.
Any one of these (or a host of other reasons) are enough to cause one to choose to supplement their diet with vitamins. If what we’re lacking is nutrients, then nutrients are what we need. But what is a vitamin anyway?
“Vitamins are organic molecules that function in a wide variety of capacities within the body. The most prominent function of vitamins are to serve as cofactors (co-enzymes) for enzymatic reactions. The distinguishing feature of vitamins is that they generally cannot be synthesized by mammalian cells and, therefore, must be supplied in the diet. The vitamins are of two distinct types, water soluble and fat soluble.”1 “In nature vitamins are never isolated: they are always present in the form of food-vitamin complexes.”2
So where do vitamins come from?
Vitamins should come from foods. –Dr. Royal Lee
Well, in the beginning and up until about a hundred years ago humans received all of their nutrients directly from food! However, in the past one hundred-year time-frame, much has changed. Modern conventional farming practices have stripped much of the original thirteen feet of topsoil off the land in the United States. Sadly, we are left with only a few inches. The mass-produced crops used up the vitamins and minerals long ago. To keep the plants from dying and to keep up production limited nutrients have been added to the soil.
Much of what is added back into the soil of conventionally grown plant products are industrial waste products along with the natural and synthetic “nutrients” called NPK; nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are three essential nutrients necessary for vigorous plant growth and protein production, stimulating cell division, cellular structures, root growth, seed germination, and photosynthesis as well as fruit formation, disease resistance and water levels within the plants.3
Unfortunately, there are many more nutrients in our soil that are not being replaced. Therefore, ultimately, if they are not getting into the plant, they are not getting into us.
“Federal statutes allow reclassified industrial wastes to be used in the manufacture of fertilizers, provided that such use constitutes “beneficial recycling,” and that the concentrations of hazardous constituents in the resulting fertilizers do not exceed the treatment standards specified for wastes (40 CFR 266.20)”4 This is troubling as certain plants used for phytoremediation are also used for food.
Perhaps it is time to reflect upon the thoughts of Dr. Royal Lee. He was a pioneer in the field of nutrition long before it ever occurred to folks that vitamins and minerals affected health. Nearly one hundred years ago Dr. Lee asserted that vitamins were complex groups of interdependent compounds, a biological mechanism made by living organisms. He firmly believed that the best state of the vitamin was in the whole, unprocessed food. (This was before industrial waste had become an acceptable plant growth medium.)
As a biological mechanism, Dr. Lee clearly stated what a vitamin was not. It was not a chemical.
Every vitamin is a biological mechanism, not a chemical. –Dr. Royal Lee
“It must be remembered that the metabolism of the human body, being animal in function, is a breaking down process of complex compounds that are built up by the synthetic processes of plant metabolism. The animal or human body cannot build up organic compounds and is wholly dependent on the vegetable kingdom for organic foods. Vitamins are a class of organic compounds that are probably the most complex of food constituents. …all of the ductless glands (the thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, pineal body, pituitary, adrenals, gonads, pancreas, islands of Langerhans, spleen) must have one or more of the three classes of vitamins in order to secrete their vital fluids and if deprived of the vitamins will atrophy and cease to function.”5
This makes sense. The body needs food to live and in this day and age, our bodies also need a little “extra help.” So now we find ourselves standing in front of a vitamin display at the local health food store, trying to interpret the differences in brands, technical language, and pricing. It is enough to confuse even the brightest health-conscious individual. So where does one begin while considering vitamin supplementation?
First, we need to distinguish the major difference between vitamins. Those that are derived from whole foods and those that are isolated chemicals. Yet to add to the confusion of the general public, a majority of the information marketed by allopathic medical authorities and pharmaceutical companies promote synthetic vitamins. Since supplements are now a $37 billion dollar industry,(6) this isn’t exactly chump change.
The battlefront for better nutrition today is clouded with publicity spread by promoters of theories through which they profit. – Dr. Royal Lee
“There is a growing school of nutritionists called orthomolecularists who argue that there is no difference between a ‘synthetic’ and a ‘natural’ vitamin molecule.”7 They purport that the molecule-match or ‘bioidentical’ molecular structure itself is what is important, because of the theory that “receptors on the surface of animal cells control the uptake of individual molecules regardless of how or why these molecules appear in the blood stream.” 7
This unproven theory has not been studied out as it would not be advantageous to financial interests in the synthetic vitamin industry. We must tread carefully and with wisdom regarding the lack of cofactors in synthetic vitamins. Doctor Lee stated:
Just as the chemist cannot create life, neither can he create a complex vitamin — the life element in foods and nutrition. This is a mystery the chemist has never solved and probably never will, and the synthetic vitamins he creates on the basis of chemical formulae bear as much resemblance to the real thing as a robot does to a living man, lacking an elusive quality that chemistry cannot supply. —Dr. Royal Lee
Humans have animalistic digestive systems that have developed to use naturally-occurring nutrients as they are presented primarily in fruits and vegetables. Synthetic, isolated molecules, while appearing to be a molecular match are not associated with the health-enriching cofactors found within plants. Human digestive enzymes use these cofactors to enzymatically convert plant nutrients into bioactive compounds, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants whether they are water or fat soluble.
Conversely, our bodies lack the capacity to use or optimize synthetic nutrients derived from petrochemicals, vinyl or coal tar derivatives (depending on the manufacturer), irradiated or solvent extracted animal fat/cattle brains, hydrogenated sugar, formaldehyde and acid processes among others. Isolated molecular structures made in this way can be called natural or ‘USP’ pharmaceutical grade. In addition, “most synthetic, petroleum-derived, supplements will call their products ‘vegetarian’, not because they are from plants, but because they are not from animals.”8
Chemical deficiencies do not cause dis-ease, however, whole food nutrient deficiencies are causative of many dis-eases.
Simply stated, synthetic vitamins trick the body to “believe that it doesn’t need to utilize more of the same nutrients from food. Consequently, the enzymes that normally utilize complex plant nutrients into vitamin molecules are inhibited and the body is losing its ability to fully assimilate food’s nutrients, as well as the capacity to regulate and optimize healthy vitamin concentrations. In reality, synthetic vitamins are received by the body as drugs and like all drugs, they can potentially disrupt normal metabolic functions often with devastating side effects.”7
What nourishes are whole food vitamins. However, we’re going to have to continue to stand here at the vitamin counter a bit longer because the profiteers have snuck into these bottles as well. Let’s take a look.
What we have here are three different multivitamins. They are simply ones that come to mind, so I have no “agenda” sharing them with you other than to point out the differences between them. Centrum® our first example, is the second-best selling vitamin in the United States. Notice the vitamins are made completely of bioidentical isolates.
Isolated Bioidentical Molecules
(Only vitamins are noted)
Looking at those shelves of vitamins in the store, there’s a huge selection of isolate vitamins. We have to search to find the small section containing only a few different brands of whole food vitamins. What a relief! At last, FOOD nutrients! …but not so fast…
Whole Food Base w/Sprayed-on Isolates
Most “whole food” vitamins are made using a base of actual whole food that has been processed and dehydrated before having synthetic isolates sprayed on. Does this make it a better vitamin? By law a vitamin can be considered ‘whole food’ if the food base is at least 10 percent as it is in the case of MegaFood’s® Women’s One Daily vitamin and Dr. Mercola’s® Whole-Food Multivitamin Plus. Note that they do have a better form of what is called ‘natural’ vitamin E than Centrum®, although it is still chemically processed. The form in Centrum®, dl-alpha-tocopherol, is known to have some devastating side effects, especially at higher doses.
MegaFood Women’s One Daily
Dr. Mercola Whole-Food Multivitamin Plus
“…provides you with high-potency amounts of an exclusive antioxidant formula…”
Whole Food Multivitamin
Here is an example of a “whole food” multi-vitamin completely made using food.
Food Research Vitamin-Mineral
“100% Food Nutrients”
This is typical of how the list of whole food nutrients should appear:
The preceding examples were given to demonstrate the variability in vitamins from pure isolates to whole food based and then whole food only vitamins. Hopefully, clarity has been gained in this one important aspect of vitamin supplementation.
“Studies suggest that the bioavailability of natural food complex vitamins is better than that of most isolated USP vitamins, that they may have better effects on maintaining aspects of human health beyond traditional vitamin deficiency syndromes, and at least some seem to be preferentially retained by the human body. It is not always clear if these advantages are due to the physiochemical form of the vitamin, with the other food constituents that are naturally found with them, or some combination. Regardless, it seems logical to conclude that for purposes of maintaining normal health, natural vitamins are superior to synthetic ones.”9
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2 Natural Vitamins May Be Superior to Synthetic Ones by Robert J. Thiel
8 Naturopathy for the 21st Century by Robert Thiel, Ph.D.
9 Natural Vitamins May Be Superior to Synthetic Ones by R. J. Thiel