This is really an issue that is based on a very simple but crucial question. Are synthetic, isolated vitamins and non plant sourced minerals really that different from naturally occurring vitamins, plant sourced minerals, and other micronutrients? The answer is a resounding YES and it is for this reason that both the current research and vitamin rating standards are confusing, invalid, misleading, and as new research is indicating, potentially life threatening.
Here is what you need to know. Synthetic, fractionated chemical vitamins never grew in the ground, were never energized by the sun, and were never alive or part of anything alive. They are chemicals, they are drugs; they are NOT food or nutrients. The tragedy is that under the current standards these chemicals can be marketed and studied as vitamins and they are also what are used to determine daily values and to study potential benefit and harm of vitamin supplementation.
Ingesting chemical synthetic vitamins does NOT represent vitamin supplementation; it represents the ingestion of chemicals or drugs.
This confusion regarding the difference between real vitamins and synthetic chemicals is also the basis of all the seemingly contradictory and confusing information regarding the benefits of vitamin supplementation. A very important point that needs to be made is that research is clear that vitamin deficiencies are linked to chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease. One of the seemingly confusing things about vitamin research is that there is very good evidence that vitamin deficiency is linked to disease, but research on vitamin supplementation is NOT linked to the prevention of these same diseases! One more confusing component of all this is that research on the consumption of fruits and vegetables is clearly shown to prevent cancer, heart disease, and many other chronic diseases. How is this possible? The explanation is actually very obvious once you understand that the vitamin supplementation research that fails to show a benefit does NOT actually study vitamins as they are found in fruits and vegetables. These studies use synthetic vitamins NOT naturally occurring vitamins!
The labeled amount in a synthetic compound does NOT represent the amount of actual vitamin present nor does it provide any information on the biological benefit. If it doesn’t sound like whole food it is not whole. If it has huge RDA values for all listed vitamins and minerals it is synthetic, and if it has not been properly extracted it does not contain the benefits of live food. Just like vitamin C, almost all other vitamins that we know of only offer their FULL health benefits when they are in the presence of a number of enzymes, co-enzymes, and co-factors. For example, Vitamin D may have as many as twelve different active components. The mineral copper is needed for full vitamin C activity, while vitamin E works closely with the mineral selenium to provide its health promoting, antioxidant effect. This is known as a synergistic effect and is ignored by those manufacturing and marketing synthetic and/or isolated supplements. When they do market their product as having the co-factors what one must realize is that they have added a co-factor to a SYNTHETIC chemical not a real vitamin. Whole food products naturally contain all of the vitamins, minerals and co-factors necessary because the plant itself required and absorbed these nutrients in exactly this way for its own good health.
It used to be said that vitamins were a form of “cheap life insurance” and any excess would simply be excreted in the urine. This is entirely false for fat-soluble vitamins since they can accumulate in the fatty tissues. Even excreting the water soluble vitamins can deplete the body of other essential nutrients and place a harmful load on the kidneys. It is no longer just a question of whether or not you are wasting your money on synthetic vitamins, they may be doing you significant harm.
- In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, 22,748 pregnant women were given synthetic Vitamin A. The study alarmingly reported a 240% increase in birth defects in babies of women taking 10,000 IU daily, and a 400% increase in birth defects in babies of women taking 20,000 IU a day. Women eating natural food sources of Vitamin A showed no increase in birth defects. (New England Journal of Medicine 1995; 333: 1369 – 1373)
- Another study published on April 14, 1994 in The New England Journal of Medicine studied 29,000 male smokers who were given synthetic beta-carotene and synthetic Vitamin E to evaluate the cancer-protective effect of these “vitamins”. After 10 years the men taking the synthetic beta carotene had an 18% higher rate of lung cancer, more heart attacks, and an 8% higher overall death rate. Those taking Synthetic Vitamin E had more strokes. Food sources of these same nutrients, such as fruits and vegetables, consistently demonstrate protection against cancer, heart attacks and stroke. (New England Journal of Medicine 1994; 330:1029-1035.)
- In a study published in Feb, 2009 in Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found that synthetic multivitamin use in post-menopausal women did not decrease risk of cardiovascular diseases or common cancers. In fact the study shows that synthetic multivitamin consumption is associated with a decrease in benefit from the consumption of fruits and vegetables and other healthy lifestyle choices! (Arch Intern Med. 2009; 169 (3): 294-304)
- Dr. Marian L. Neuhouser, the lead author of the multivitamin study and an associate member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, was quoted on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as saying that while fruits and vegetables have been linked to good health and prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease, that doesn’t mean vitamins extracted from those food groups (or synthetics) will have the same effect. Dr. Neuhouser hypothesizes that missing cofactors and bioactives, compounds like anti-oxidants and isoflavonoids that are thought to act synergistically with vitamins and minerals, might be the reason why synthetic and isolated vitamins do not show the same benefits as those from whole fruits and vegetables. (http://forbes.com/2009/02/17/vitamins-health-effectslifestyle-health)
- This mirrors a study that showed that taking synthetic Vitamin C and synthetic Vitamin E actually blocked the beneficial effects of exercise in terms of insulin sensitivity and antioxidant activity. Here again the subjects in the study that ingested natural Vitamin C and Vitamin E did not experience these adverse effect but rather derived all the benefits one would expect. (Ristow et al. Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. PNAS, March 11, 2009).
Synthetic Vitamins have been linked to birth defects and higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and overall death. Dr. Patsy Brannon, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, states that consumers should add vitamins and minerals from whole fruits and vegetables and that consumers should familiarize themselves with when a dose of synthetic vitamins or isolated vitamin extracts become toxic. In other words whole fruits and vegetables are the safest, most effective, most beneficial sources of vitamins and minerals. Sounds like common sense!
(Thanks to Dr. James Chestnut and Innate Choice for supplying information/research)