When it comes to vitamins, it is always best to get them from a healthy, balanced diet. However, if you are lacking a specific nutrient, taking a supplement can be beneficial. While some synthetic nutrients are more absorbable than natural nutrients in foods, fortified foods and supplements tend to contain higher amounts of nutrients than natural foods. This could lead to overconsumption of certain nutrients.
The vitamins and minerals in supplements are synthetic forms of nutrients. However, the word synthetic does not necessarily mean inferior. Even supplements that claim to have natural ingredients contain some synthetic ingredients. In fact, if a pill contained only natural ingredients, it would be the size of a golf ball.
Almost all multivitamins come from synthetic products, as do fortified foods. Vitamin A in its natural form is actually a large group of natural compounds. Natural vitamin A only comes from animal sources, and truly natural forms of dietary supplements usually come from fish oils. Synthetic forms, which do not contain any natural vitamin A compounds, are usually in dry form (tablet or capsule).
The synthetic form of vitamin A is significantly more toxic than the natural form. The most commonly used synthetic form is vitamin A palmitate. In addition to dietary supplements, some arguments state that certain vitamins require a certain form, which is often described as a natural form or a biologically active version. One vitamin with some reports that the natural form may be more effective than the synthetic form is vitamin E.
Many supplements use a synthetic form known as pure alpha-tocopherol, which has eight possible stereoisomers. Natural vitamin E contains 100 percent of the RRR-alpha-tocopherol stereoisomer. Studies have found that the RRR-alpha-tocopherol stereoisomer is absorbed more efficiently, making it more bioavailable. For example, studies have shown that people who eat fortified foods or who take dietary supplements are more likely to exceed the tolerable maximum intake level (UL) for nutrients such as zinc, folic acid, and vitamin A.
Specific vitamins and minerals interact with each other, some increasing the effectiveness of the other and others inhibiting it. A new study on vitamin C (Am J Clin Nutr), published on January 20, showed that adults taking the synthetic version had serious side effects. In addition, those who took the natural supplement had an average concentration of alpha-TOH that was 49.6 percent higher in colostrum compared to synthetic colostrum. Synthetic riboflavin is made with acetic acid and nitrogen or uses genetically modified bacteria and fermentation.
Traditionally, vitamin K supplements used a synthetic version known as K1, but it has become more common to find natural menaquinone-7, or MK-7.There was also an increase in calcium deposition, or mineralization, in those treated with AlgaeCal compared to control, calcium carbonate and calcium citrate, even with the addition of vitamin D3. A variety of synthetic vitamin D compounds have been developed, the most common being calcium triol, doxercalciferol and calcipotriene. In fact, some of the forms of vitamins (called vitamers) found in foods are less active and less easily converted into activated forms than the vitameric forms used in pills. A study that compared pure alpha tocopherol with RRR, or natural vitamin E, conducted on nursing mothers found that both forms of the supplement increased the concentration of the vitamin in the mother's colostrum but the natural form was more effective at that task. The only exception seems to be vitamin E which in its natural form (RRR-alpha tocopherol) is better absorbed than in its synthetic form (pure alpha tocopherol).
In a study on breastfeeding women researchers found that vitamin C from food was better absorbed than that from supplements and therefore passed into breast milk more efficiently. Those supplements that contain vitamin A not to mention beta-carotene are probably synthetic unless some type of fish liver oil appears somewhere on the label. These unnatural supplements are one of two categories of dietary supplements; the other being truly natural supplements. In general, synthetic nutrients refer to artificial nutrients found in dietary supplements and fortified foods.
While they may not be inferior to their natural counterparts they should still be taken with caution as they can lead to overconsumption of certain nutrients.