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“Although some health professionals believe, ‘The body cannot tell whether a vitamin in the bloodstream came from an organically grown cantaloupe or from a chemist’s laboratory’, this belief is misleading because it does not seem to consider the fact that there are multiple mechanisms which influence the absorption and utilization of most vitamins,” says Robert J. Thiel, Ph.D, in Combining Old and New Naturopathy For the 21st Century.
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Although some believe a vitamin is a vitamin, natural or synthetic, and the body will utilize them both equally, there may be more to consider. 

Christine Rosenbloom, Georgia State University professor of nutrition and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association says, “Vitamins and minerals in supplements are synthetic forms of the nutrients. The word ‘synthetic’ doesn’t necessarily mean inferior. If a pill contained only natural ingredients, it would be the size of a golf ball. For the most part, our bodies appear to absorb synthetic forms as well as they do natural forms.”

Any food found in its natural form contains a host of vitamins and nutrients. You can’t just run out to the garden and pick yourself some vitamin C, you’ll always have supportive nutrients as that’s the way the body was designed by the Lord to absorb food. Different nutrients come from different foods. The form of vitamin E found in vegetables will be different than the vitamin E found in fish. 

“Particle size is an important factor in nutrient absorption even though particle size is not detected by chemical assessment,” Thiel says. It’s generally accepted that smaller particles are better absorbed, this is why we chew our food well, 30 chews per bite, for proper mastication and absorption. 

“‘The physiochemical form of a nutrient is a major factor in bioavailability’, that nutrient in natural foods and USP vitamins are not always in the same physiochemical form,” he adds.

The body can recognize certain structures and absorb them. “Most USP vitamins are crystalline in structure while most vitamins in food are not. Electron microscopy indicates that isolated USP vitamins appear larger and have a crystalline appearance compared to vitamins in a natural food complex which have more of a rounded and smaller appearance,” Thiel adds. 

Optimally vitamins should come from food, as we are naturally made to absorb nutrition. “Some synthetic USP vitamin analogues have been shown to have no vitamin action, some can act as vitamin antagonists, and some can even produce deficiency symptoms,” Thiel says. 

Natural vitamin A is best found in liver. It is commonly used for night blindness. “An animal study found that synthetic vitamin A in the from of retinyl acetate significantly reduced vitamin E utilization; this has not been shown to occur with natural vitamin A. An animal study concluded that a natural food complex vitamin A was probably less toxic than a synthetic USP form and was 1.54 times more absorbed into the blood,” he says. 

B vitamins are commonly synthetic and known to be less absorbed in the synthetic form. “One study found that the pasteurization of bovine milk seems to reduce the bound form of riboflavin from 13.6% to 2%. An animal study found that a natural food complex vitamin B2 was absorbed into the blood and was retained 1.92 times more in the liver than an isolated USP riboflavin,” he says.

Sometimes synthetic vitamins are obtained by using processes that people would never use in home food production. Thiel goes on to say, “Producing synthetic pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) involves the use of formaldehyde. Synthetic B6 usually requires formaldehyde in its production. Most synthetic B-12 is made through a fermentation process with the addition of cyanide. The first vitamin isolated was a photoproduct from the irradiation of the fungal sterol ergosterol. This vitamin was known as D1.”

Vitamins that are commonly found in the synthetic forms are:

  • Vitamin A: Retinyl Palmitate
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Thiamine Mononitrate, Thiamine Hydrochloride
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Riboflavin
  • Pantothenic Acid: Calcium D-Pantothenate
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
  • Vitamin B12: Cyanocobalamin
  • PABA (Para-aminobenzoic Acid): Aminobenzoic Acid
  • Folic Acid: Pteroylglutamic Acid
  • Choline: Choline Chloride, Choline Bitartrate
  • Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): Ascorbic Acid
  • Vitamin D: Irradiated Ergosteral, Calciferol
  • Vitamin E: dl-alpha tocopherol, dl-alpha tocopherol acetate or succinate

The prefix “dl” indicates the vitamin is synthetic. If the ingredient label reads food items such as anchovies, sardines, cherries, organic beets as well as others, it’s from a natural form. 

To make matters worse, the supplement industry is a self regulated industry so they if they feel it’s not a problem to put cotton or wood pulp in our supplements, they simply put them in the supplements in whatever quantity they desire. No outside source checks to see that the tablets contains what they say they contain, this is the supplement industry’s job. 

If you’re eating processed food such as packaged foods, candies, microwaved foods or other dead foods, nutrient absorption is not as high as eating home cooked high quality foods. Those on a rebuilding protocol like GAPS consider the top five most nutrient dense foods are organ meats, marrow bones, animal fats, pastured or wild caught meat close to the bone, and raw pastured yolks.

*Nourishing Plot is written by Becky Plotner, ND, traditional naturopath, CGP, D.PSc. who sees clients in Rossville, Georgia. She works as a Certified GAPS Practitioner who sees clients in her office, Skype and phone. She has been published in Wise Traditions, spoken at two Weston A. Price Conferences, Certified GAPS Practitioner Trainings, has been on many radio shows, television shows and writes for Nourishing Plot. Since her son was delivered from the effects of autism (Asperger’s syndrome), ADHD, bipolar disorder/manic depression, hypoglycemia and dyslexia, through food, she continued her education specializing in Leaky Gut and parasitology through Duke University, finishing with distinction. She is a Chapter Leader for The Weston A. Price Foundation. [email protected]

“GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. The right of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Patent and Designs Act 1988.



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