There are approximately 150 million people in North America who take a vitamin or vitamin/mineral supplement every day. The amazing thing is that by far the majority of these people have little or no idea if the vitamin they take is real or synthetic. When I appeared in the past in trade shows as the manufacturer/distributor of vitamin and mineral products one of the questions we asked of people at our display booths was, “Is the vitamin you take real and do you know where it comes from?” Most people would look at us slightly bewildered and respond with something like, “Don’t they all come from the same place?” Wrong! To achieve standardized levels of vitamin and mineral ingredients there are only two sources: One is synthetically made and one is plant-sourced. And what a difference this can make! In years past, before diet supplementation became both common and necessary the food we ate was much higher in nutrients. Now that many of us regularly consume a vitamin/mineral product that is commercially produced it is becoming more and more important that we understand what the label on a given product does and does not present.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN: SYNTHETIC?
Synthetic vitamins are produced chemically in a laboratory and often are a by-product of either the petroleum or coal tar processing operation. Many people are amazed, once they learn how to understand vitamins and minerals, that many vitamins come to them as a product originally produced out of the ground through an oil well! They are not in a food form recognized by the human body. Because they are far less expensive, and in order to keep costs down, most minerals used for supplementation are mined from the ground or manufactured through chemical processing. Many tests and clinical trials have shown these minerals do not digest well and they are not soluble in either the stomach or small intestine.
WHAT DOES PLANT-SOURCED REALLY MEAN?
Naturally sourced vitamins are produced by making extractions from foods or plants or are cultured from yeast. The many types and styles of plants use many different natural processes to accumulate minerals from the earth. Plants predigest these minerals using those natural processes and then blend them into a digestible food matrix. The vitamin/mineral content of fruits and vegetables varies tremendously from one geographic area to another. Whether a farmer uses natural or synthetic fertilizers makes a huge difference to the nutrient content and quality of the fruits and vegetables. Vitamins from these natural sources have been shown by research to apparently be much easier for the human system to absorb and digest than synthetically made vitamins.
LEARN TO READ THE LABEL
Supplement labels can be very important. Most people do not really understand how to read the labels on vitamins and minerals that they purchase in a store. I always urge consumers to find a good basic pamphlet that explains in some detail how to read nutritional supplement labels. Dietary supplement companies have some freedom in how they design their labels and present nutritional information. Understanding a little about the listing of product ingredients can be helpful. For example any vitamin ending in the following is synthetic: acetate, hydrochloride, palmitate, succinate or mononitrate. Here is a partial list of the most common endings for synthetic mineral names: aspartate, carbonate, chloride, citrate, disulfide, oxide, sulfate, methionine, ascorbate, and orotate. There are others but these tend to be the most common. Synthetic vitamins can be very interesting. For example, following are a few common names that are often misunderstood. Vitamin E is often listed as dl-alpha tocopherol. The small “l” following the initial “d” indicates this is synthetic vitamin E. Look for vitamin E without the small “l.” Synthetic Vitamin B2 is often listed on the label as riboflavin. Vitamin C often appears as ascorbic acid. Manufacturers often choose to label synthetic vitamin D as calciferol. Choosing well-established companies with their own research and development capabilities can be very important. Reputable companies often present their products with a product guarantee. Many small, entry-level companies simply purchase products formulated for them by larger laboratories. Highly paid athletes and public figures are often not the best reference for a good well-formulated vitamin/mineral product.
Please leave me any questions or comments you may have.