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We are often asked if there is a
nutritional difference between ingesting natural over synthetic vitamins. This
is a good but complicated question, one with different answers depending on whom
you talk to. From my perspective the answer is yes, there is a difference with
On the other hand, some supplement
companies will say that “natural vitamins are better and our vitamins are all
natural, so therefore, buy ours.” However, you will pay a premium price for
genuine “all natural” multiple vitamins and the amounts of the individual
vitamins will usually be substantially lower than a supplement that includes
some synthetic vitamins. It is worth noting at least 90% of all vitamins sold in
the U.S. are synthetic.
So which vitamins does it clearly
make a difference with? In my opinion and experience it is not important with
the B vitamins and vitamin C. These are of a fairly simple chemical structures
and the manufacturing process seems to do a good job of duplicating them. For
the more complex molecules of vitamin A and E it is a different story.
Lets look at beta-carotene first.
Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A by the body and, therefore, provides
most of the same benefits of vitamin A without the risks. Most multiple vitamins
today use beta-carotene to supply part of the vitamin A component. Beta-carotene
has the added advantage of being a much better antioxidant then vitamin A.
Many complex vitamins have a
chemical structure that can be found in either a left- or right-handed rotation.
For beta-carotene the more common rotation in nature is the “cis-”
rotation, with some of the “trans-“ rotated molecules also found. The
cis- rotated molecules have more anti-oxidation capacity than the trans-.
Unfortunately, synthetic beta-carotene has a lot less cis- than trans-
molecules. Plus, other carotenoids like the alpha- and gamma-carotenes are also
now known to be of benefit. These are mainly found in natural sources of
beta-carotene. So I like to see natural beta-carotene in multiple vitamins. I
particularly recommend it in the antioxidant formulas, with the “mixed”
carotenoids also present. Finally, look for the source of the beta-carotene to
assure that it really is natural. In most cases the bottle will mention the
algae “D. salina” as the source.
If a person is trying to fight off
an infection I like to use vitamin A instead of beta-carotene. Then I recommend
the natural fish oil sources since the synthetic form has greater toxicity. In a
multiple vitamin I like to see some of the vitamin A from fish oil and the rest
from natural beta-carotene. If it is natural, the source of vitamin A will
usually be listed.
Vitamin E is another vitamin that is
clearly better in the natural form. It is better absorbed and retained than the
synthetic plus it has other variations that are known to be beneficial.
Officially vitamin E is “d-alpha tocopherol” but in nature we also
find beta, gamma and delta versions of this molecule. These other forms are now
known to have their own benefits. Consequently, I recommend the natural form of
vitamin E with “mixed tocopherols” in multiple vitamins and especially in
the antioxidant formulas. Other forms of natural vitamin E include “d-alpha
tocopheryl acetate” and “d-alpha tocopheryl acid succinate.”
If the chemical name has “dl-alpha” on the front of it, it’s
Finally, it is important to have
these vitamins together. Some people get a favorite vitamin and neglect to
include the others in their daily supplementation. These vitamins all work
together, this is true for the B vitamins as well as the antioxidants and
minerals. Therefore, for preventative purposes, I always recommend a
broad-spectrum, low-potency daily multiple vitamin making sure that you get a
good dose of the antioxidants vitamin C, E, beta-carotene and the mineral
selenium either in the multiple or in a separate antioxidant.
There are no doubt other supplements
that meet my specifications, but after considerable research we settled on
recommending the Amni’s Basic Preventive 5 and Carlson’s ACES for daily
preventative supplementation. I recommend for the average healthy male one Basic
Preventive 5 and one ACES each twice a day with food. For healthy middle-aged
and older women, I also add extra calcium/magnesium and trace elements to that