Vitamins, vitamins, and more vitamins. Whether we get them from our daily diet, from sunshine, or from store bought capsules or liquids, vitamins are vital to our health and to the proper functioning of our bodies.
Vitamin deficiencies lead to a wide range of concerns spanning from anorexia and obesity to organ malfunction, depression and fatigue.
However, whether or not your vitamins are harming you is another story. What a lot of people are not aware of is that all vitamins are not created equal, and most are actually synthetic and manufactured from facilities that are not well regulated.
What is a "Synthetic" Vitamin?
The types of vitamins that are the most beneficial is up for debate. A healthy, organic diet should provide a good amount of nutrients that the body needs, but supplements can help ensure that we are getting a healthy serving of specific vitamins.
The concern is that many vitamin and mineral supplements are manufactured synthetically with chemicals and do not come straight from their natural sources. They are made to mimic the way natural vitamins act in our bodies but many are missing some of the physiologically bio available structures. Natural vitamins are derived directly from plant material containing the vitamin, not produced in a test tube.
Many synthetic vitamins lack the transporters and co-factors associated with naturally occurring vitamins because they have been "reduced and isolated." The Organic Consumers Association emphasizes that isolated vitamins cannot be used or recognized by the body in the same way as the natural version .
The natural form of supplements come in packages with other vitamins, enzymes and minerals that control the way the body recognizes, metabolizes and uses them to make what is needed to convert carbohydrates, proteins and fats into energy and building blocks for the body.
Isolated vitamins can't always be used by the body, and are either stored until the body obtains or creates the nutrients required to use them effectively or are excreted. That's why your urine turns into abnormal coloration (ie dark orange, neon yellow). Synthetic vitamins are also lacking of the necessary trace minerals and must use the body's own mineral reserves, which may lead to dangerous mineral deficiencies.
Did You Know? More than 95% of all the vitamin supplements sold today fall into the synthetic category.
What's the Big Deal About Synthetic Vitamins?
Synthetic versions of vitamins contain chemical compounds that were not meant for human consumption and do not occur in nature. Evolution has dictated that we eat the food we can gather from the earth, not the "food" or chemical compounds we create in a lab.
We might not always get what we're expecting from synthetics. The synthetic version of Vitamin E is often referred to as the dl- form. The dl- form is a combination of the d-form (which is the naturally occurring form) and the l-form. No big deal, right? Well it might not be, except that the body doesn't actually use the l-form -- we excrete it! This can cause stress on the kidneys and the liver, which can then cause other health issues such as damage to other organs like a domino effect. Fat soluble vitamins in their high dose synthetic form are especially dangerous because they can build up in fatty tissues and cause toxicity.
- Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat soluble
- Fat soluble vitamins are found naturally in butter, fish oils, nuts, and green leafy vegetables
- Excesses of fat soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues
- Most people do not get sufficient amounts of fat soluble vitamins and nutrition from their diet
How do I know if the vitamins I'm buying are synthetic or natural?
The Organic Consumers Association has published an ingredients chart to help consumers identify natural vs. synthetic vitamins. Many vitamin producers want you to believe that you are getting a "natural product" because it seems more wholesome to take "natural" vitamins. Unfortunately, vitamins can be labeled as natural if they contain as little as 10% of the natural form of the vitamin. This means that your "natural" vitamin could contain 90% of synthetically produced chemicals! B-Vitamins and Vitamin C are also usually synthetically produced.
Look for clues on your vitamin's label that offer insight into the origin of the vitamin.
- Vitamin A as Retinyl Palmitate
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) as Thiamine Mononitrate, Thiamine Hydrochloride
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) as Riboflavin
- Pantothenic Acid as Calcium D-Pantothenate
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) as Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
- Vitamin B12 as Cyanocobalamin
- PABA (Para-aminobenzoic Acid) as Aminobenzoic Acid
- Folic Acid as Pteroylglutamic Acid
- Choline as Choline Chloride, Choline Bitartrate
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) as Ascorbic Acid
- Vitamin D as Irradiated Ergosteral, Calciferol
- Vitamin E as dl-alpha tocopherol, dl-alpha tocopherol acetate or succinate
NOTE: The "dl" form of any vitamin is synthetic.
Other Toxic Ingredients to Avoid In Supplements
1. Artificial Colorants
Various FD&C Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow are approved by the FDA and are particularly notable in children’s vitamins. However, there is no reason that anyone really needs to be consuming these substances, especially given the fact that some have been linked to ADHD and immune system problems 
2. Titanium Dioxide
Butylated Hydroxytoluene is an antioxidant preservative used in a range of products (including petroleum, cosmetics and even embalming fluid) to improve the shelf-life of fat-based products. Though it’s use is controversial, it has been linked to liver toxicity and some forms of cancer. 
4. Magnesium Silicate
5. Magnesium Stearate / Stearic Acid
Magnesium stearate is made from a combination of magnesium and stearic acid. Stearic acid is found naturally in vegetable and animal fats. It is used as a lubricant or “flow agent” for manufacturing supplements. (Flow agents are additives that keep the materials from sticking to the machines during processing.)
Magnesium stearate also used as a coating for tablets. Controversy surrounds this particular additive mostly due to an old study that suggested its potential to negatively affect our immune systems, but recent studies and reviews claim no adverse health effects. 
Controversy continues to surround the use of magnesium stearate because the stearic acid used to make the preservatives is sometimes taken from cottonseed, canola or palm oil. The majority of cottonseed and canola oil are sourced from GM crops, and palm oil is highly unsustainable.
6. Sodium Benzoate
Consumers should be aware of anything containing benzene as it has been linked to various cancers. Sodium benzoate can form benzene if it’s taken with ascorbic acid. Sodium benzoate has the potential to damage cells and DNA. 
- Brian Clement PhD NMD. Nutri-Con: The Truth About Vitamins & Supplements. The Vitamin Myth Exposed. 2005 December 31.
- Calton, J.B. Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 7, 24 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-24
- Field CJ, Johnson IR, Schley PD. Nutrients and their role in host resistance to infection. J Leukoc Biol. 2002;71(1):16-32.
- Fletcher RH, Fairfield KM. Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults: clinical applications. JAMA. 2002;287(23):3127-3129. doi:10.1001/jama.287.23.3127.
- Misner B. Food alone may not provide sufficient micronutrients for preventing deficiency. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2006;3(1):51-55. Published 2006 Jun 5. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-3-1-51.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician or other healthcare provider.