Truth About Vitamins


Every day, Americans spend millions of dollars on vitamin supplements in hopes of replacing the nutrients we don't get from our diets, even when eating healthy selections, but do we really know what we are getting when we buy food supplements?

"There never was anything in the world that some man could not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper. Those who consider price only are this man's lawful prey." - John Ruskin.

The answer to that question is a resounding no! Why is this important? Because all vitamins are not created equal! For those of us who are conscientious enough to take vitamin supplements, it's essential to know what you are buying because it doesn't make sense to accept them if they will be effective. This article will walk you through what vitamin manufacturers don't tell you about their products so you can make healthier choices for yourself and your family.

  • Vitamins come in three necessary forms: Natural, Crystalline, and Synthetic. We will define these terms briefly, but as you might suspect, natural vitamins are the most desirable because they come to you the way nature intended them to be found in the foods you eat (or those you don't eat!). They are more expensive because of the cost associated with extracting them and preserving them in their natural state, but they are also more effective in potency and being absorbed and used by the body the way the body expects.

Crystalline vitamins are derived from natural sources but have been chemically treated with solvents, heat, and other distillation methods to reduce them down to one specific pure crystalline vitamin or amino acid, and hence, they are no longer entirely natural. Vitamins in this form typically lack some of the enzymes, co-enzymes, minerals, mineral activators, and other substances that work with vitamins to be absorbed by the body. Vitamins in this class are more expensive than synthetic vitamins but less costly than natural vitamins.

Finally, scientists create synthetic vitamins in a laboratory and reconstruct the crystalline structure of vitamin molecules by combining them from other sources. Chemically, there is no difference between synthetic and crystalline vitamins. But, these vitamins are lacking in the other substances found in nature that work with vitamins to make them complete when the body puts them to use. Of course, most vitamins today are synthetic because of the substantial cost savings to the manufacturer in the production process.

These distinctions are important because some vitamins, no matter how perfectly duplicated in the laboratory, are just not as effective as their natural counterparts, and none of them contains all the things nature intended to accompany them. So, we must take them in larger doses to get as close to the same effect as the natural counterpart. Of course, this leads to its own problems since some vitamins are toxic at higher dosages, and in some cases, it's just throwing money away to increase the dosage because the body rids itself on what it can't use.

All vitamins in their natural state occur in complexes. "Complexes" comes from the word complexus, meaning interlaced or intricate, which means puzzling, detailed parts. Vitamin complexes are composed of various interconnecting elements that function together. In other words, they don't work independently of the other parts. You can't take an individual piece of vitamin and expect it to work without re-combining it with the other parts. Vitamin complexes comprise many parts- trace minerals, associative vitamins, enzymes (those parts that do the work of the vitamin), etc. Synthetic vitamins are individual, isolated parts without the other naturally occurring helpers. It's those other parts that make the difference in you getting results.

One example of this phenomenon is Vitamin E. Researchers have long known that natural vitamin E, milligram for milligram, is about 36 percent more potent than the synthetic form of the vitamin. In fact, the "international unit," or IU, the standard was developed to compensate for these differences.

However, two new studies using different groups of people - not laboratory animals - have found that natural vitamin E is utilized twice as efficiently as the synthetic form. "Natural vitamin E may cost twice as much, but you get twice as much bang for your buck," Graham W. Burton, PhD, told The Nutrition Reporter. Burton, a researcher at the National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, directed one of the studies.

In the study, Burton and his American colleagues gave five healthy men and women 30 mg of vitamin E, which was half natural and half synthetic. The same people took an identical vitamin E supplement for eight days a month later. Another five subjects took a 300 mg dose of vitamin E, which was also half natural and half synthetic. They made an identical vitamin E supplement for eight days a month later.

By biochemically labeling the natural and synthetic vitamin E supplements, Burton and his colleagues were able to tell them apart and to also distinguish dietary vitamin E. While natural and synthetic vitamin E were absorbed equally well through the digestive tract, the liver selected for the natural form over the artificial: blood levels of natural vitamin E were consistently twice those of the synthetic form.

"We found that blood and organ levels of natural vitamin E were almost double those of synthetic vitamin E, and they were consistently so," Burton explained. "The beauty of this study design is that each participant served as both a control and experimental subject."
A similar trend was found in the blood of 22 surgical patients given the half-natural, half-synthetic vitamin E supplements for up to six weeks and in two terminally ill patients given the supplements for one to two years.

Tissue levels of natural vitamin E - based on organs removed during surgery - also increased compared with the synthetic. However, it took at least a year or two for the 2:1 natural-to-synthetic ratio to develop in tissues.

In the other study, Robert V. Acuff, MD, of East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, gave vitamin E supplements - again, half natural and half synthetic - to 15 pregnant women five days before giving birth. At delivery, natural vitamin E levels in the mothers' blood were consistently double those of the synthetic vitamin. Furthermore, natural vitamin E levels in the placental cords were almost 3.5 times higher than the synthetic form.

The bottom line is that price should not be the primary focus when selecting vitamin supplements. If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing right, and nowhere is that more important than with your health. Remember, "God made naturals - MAN made synthetics.
In which will you put your trust?"

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