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The Surprising Truth About Synthetic Vitamins and Minerals

podcast episode cover art - vitamins and healthy food

Season 2 of the Science of Self-Healing Podcast has a NEW host! Please welcome Dr. James Odell, the Medical and Executive Director for BRMI, as well as a practicing naturopathic doctor for over 35 years.

In this episode, join Dr. James O'Dell for an in-depth analysis of the challenges in obtaining all essential vitamins and minerals from modern diets. Delve into the differences between synthetic vitamins and whole food concentrates, and gain insights into identifying synthetic vitamins to avoid. Explore the pros and cons of synthetic vitamins and minerals, and learn how to effectively supplement them for optimal health. Tune in for a comprehensive understanding of this critical aspect of nutrition.

Transcript for The Surprising Truth About Synthetic Vitamins and Minerals

Dr. James Odell: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Science of Self-Healing podcast. For health and wellness knowledge from a different perspective. Produced by the Bioregulatory Medicine Institute, also known as BRMI. We are your source for unparalleled information about how you can naturally support your body's ability to regulate, adapt, regenerate, and self-heal. I'm your host, Dr. James Odell, the medical and executive director for BRMI, as well as a practicing naturopathic doctor for over 35 years. And remember, this podcast is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the direct care of a qualified health professional who oversees and provides unique and individual care. The information here is to broaden our different perspectives and should not be construed as medical advice or treatment. Let's get started.

In this episode, I'll discuss some of the differences between whole food concentrate supplements and synthetic vitamins and minerals. 

I think we all understand that vitamins and minerals are necessary for health. They're essential nutrients for the body function, such as fighting infections, healing wounds, regulating hormones, making bones and teeth strong, maintaining healthy skin and organs, converting food into energy, creating new blood vessels, assisting in blood clotting, aiding in vision, and much, much more. They're essential. Without them, significant metabolic disruptions occur, including degenerative diseases and even death. 

Over the years, though, I have heard that we get enough vitamins and minerals from our food. I wish this were completely true, but it is not. Yes, food is what keeps our body stocked with these essential nutrients. That's why nutrition is fundamental to your body's health. We allegedly used to be able to get all the vitamins and minerals necessary for our body solely from a healthy diet. But now our food is much less nutritious. Our soil has been stripped of its nutritional value by commercial farming methods. Fields are depleted by overuse and repeated planting in the exact area, causing the soil not only to renew itself. Soil quality matters. If it's not in the soil, it's not in the plant. Every hundred years, only one inch of nutrient rich topsoil is produced. The current farming methods and trends are causing the soil to be depleted at a rate of ten times the amount it could replenish itself. Commercial fertilizer composed of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Just those three elements, that's all. But our body needs 102 different minerals to function properly. Macro, micro and trace minerals, as well as vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and much more. 

This is why organic, sustainable farming methods really matter and are very important to keep our soil healthy. Conventional farming methods try to compensate by adding fertilizers and even pesticides, but this ends up corrupting the produce. Pesticides limit the action of beneficial microbes in the soil that help plants draw in nutrients. Again, fertilizers focus on certain three basic chemicals and don't consider all of the trace minerals and organic compounds, or even the beneficial microorganisms that go into nutrition. And now we also have genetically modified foods that have made their way into our food supply, and we don't know how they may affect us in the long term. Even if you avoid food with GMOs and eat organic produce, your food has fewer nutrients than it did in the past. Let me repeat that your food has fewer nutrients than it did in the past, even if you're eating organic and non-GMO, much of the food you find in the grocery stores outside the produce section barely even resembles what humanity has been eating for thousands of years. There is no wonder we're seeing autoimmune disorders, food allergies, and a growing epidemic of obesity.

 In addition to depleted and corrupted soil, we refine and process our food so it lasts longer. It's more convenient, tastes better, they say, and is even made to be more addictive. We strip out and destroy vital nutrients as we process them. It's also worth mentioning that many people have a diseased or corrupted intestinal microbiome and are unable to digest food well or adequately absorb nutrients from the food they eat. 

So is food supplementation important?

Yes, it is, because nutrients are not in our soil like they used to be, that we've processed food to the point of depleting nutrients, and our body isn't able to absorb the nutrients adequately. So food supplementation can be vital. 

Of course, we can improve our diet and make significant differences in our health. This is not to say that we shouldn't improve our diet and just rely on food supplements. The natural occurring vitamins found in food are complexes of associated compounds that act together synergistically to deliver a nutritive effect to the body. These complexes also require minerals in an organic form to activate them. Whole foods contain these vitamins, minerals and associated compounds, providing a comprehensive source of nutrition. 

I will be discussing ways to improve the nutrient content of the diet in just a minute. 

But first, let's talk about food supplementation. Since most food is no longer as nutritionally dense, we need to fill in the gaps with food supplements. However, there's a lot of confusion about what specific nutrients need to be supplemented and the differences between synthetic vitamins and whole food, concentrated vitamins and minerals. 

So there is a vast difference between the vitamins that are on the market from whole food sources, often called whole food concentrates, and vitamins which are synthetically created in the lab. 

It's important to know that 98% of the vitamins out there are synthetically made. Only a few companies make whole food concentrates. You could usually tell the difference between these two types by reading the labels carefully. Synthetic vitamins often use scientific names. For example, ascorbic acid. This is synthetic vitamin C. On the other hand, whole food concentrates often list foods like acerola, cherry extract.

 Also, what is interesting about this is the amount that can be absorbed from the body will differ greatly from these two different sources. Whole food concentrates, because they have a much higher absorption rate, usually are much less in the concentration, whereas synthetic vitamins are usually very high in their concentration and often maybe a thousand times the RDA. This is because they're often not absorbed very well. 

Another example is vitamin E. Naturally sourced vitamin E is commonly labeled as D alpha tocopherol. The synthetically produced form is labeled as DL alpha tocopherol. Thus, if it begins with DL, it's an indication that the vitamin is synthetic. Thus, to avoid synthetic vitamins, we should avoid those words that end in acid, ide (I-D-E) and sometimes -ate, or the use of DL before the name. So the labels will often tell you if it's synthetic or whole food. 

Most of the time, if it's whole food, they're going to be advertising it as a whole food concentrate and often it's more expensive. So let's concentrate on the pros and cons of synthetic vitamins. 

This is not to say that synthetic vitamins are bad at all. Some are quite targeted and good. But there are some pros and cons that we need to concern ourselves with. 

Unlike natural occurring vitamins found in food, synthetic vitamins consist of a single compound that has been deemed most active of a natural vitamin complex and either isolated from the food or synthesized in the lab. Its chemical structure may or may not be identical to the one naturally occurring in nature. These synthetic vitamins often do not have the cofactors that whole food concentrates have. 

The truth is, almost all multivitamin supplements are synthetic, as I mentioned, 98%. The same goes for fortified foods. So the vitamins and cereals and other fortified foods, these are synthetic vitamins as well. There's an economic reason for this. Synthetic vitamins are simply cheaper to make and usually have a longer shelf life. This means they could last on the shelves for months or years and be added to foods in high doses and even created in a small, dense tablet packed with large amounts of this type of vitamin or high amounts. 

The vitamin companies are allowed to call these natural even when they're synthetic, because scientists say the synthetics are virtually identical to the ones found in food. 

So beware of the word “natural.” However, the way these compounds are made are not anywhere remotely like the metabolic processes that plants and animals use to create them. These lab created vitamins and minerals are produced under control conditions, which allows for precise dosages and reliable and consistent results. That may sound good. 

Manufacturers claim synthetic vitamins are consistently created, and some are even standardized to exact potency, so you know exactly how much of the vitamin you're getting. 

Also, synthetic vitamins offer specific nutrients that can be chosen to address specific deficiencies or health concerns with targeted supplementation. 

We live in a genomic age where your genome can be assessed to determine certain types of what's called single nucleotide polymorphisms or snips. These are genetic misspellings. So a good example of supplementing a B vitamin would be a methylated B vitamin like methylated folate or methylated b twelve for those who have an MTHFR gene mutation or snip. So in other words, this is to say that some people have a misspelling and they don't methylate their B vitamins well. They're not able to methylate B-12 or folate, so these can be taken in a methylated form. We think of this as a more personalized or targeted approach.

A more personalized, targeted approach helps with nutrition and offers a variety of administrative options such as oral, sublingual, intramuscular and intravenous. 

However, there are drawbacks to taking synthetic vitamins that make whole food concentrates, in some cases a better option. 

Synthetic vitamins are isolated or simulated nutrients that do not take into account all of the other countless phytonutrients that come along with them in a more natural form. Vitamins from whole food concentrates come with other bioactive compounds, for example, flavonoids and phytochemicals, polyphenols and enzymes. These work synergistically to enhance the absorption and utilization of the vitamin. Thus, in many ways, synthetic vitamins are not as bioavailable as whole food concentrated types, and they are incomplete in their nutrient complex. This affects their bioavailability, so they're not as absorbable or usable and in some cases not even recognizable to the body -  not like a whole food concentrate would be.  

The fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A-D-E and K need fatty acids to be absorbed properly in the body. When taken through natural food sources, the body can adequately metabolize these with any excess excreted accordingly. 

Meanwhile, synthetic forms of these vitamins are often made in high concentrations. Since they're isolated and contain no fatty lipids for proper processing by the body, they are often stored in the liver. Over time, these excess synthetic chemical vitamins may build up in the liver and even become toxic to the body. 

It's possible synthetic or virtually identical vitamins, they call them “virtually identical,” can be hard on the kidneys as well. 

Lastly, synthetic vitamins often come from questionably sourced materials such as petroleum products, coal tar derivatives, and chemically processed sugar processes of industrial chemicals such as formaldehyde and ammonia. They may contain unnecessary additives like magnesium stearate, silicone dioxide, titanium dioxide, starch, microcrystalline cellulose, stearic acid, simethicone, vegetable gum, talc and propylene glycol, as well as hidden sugars like maltodextrin or corn syrup solids and toxic fillers. So it's best to read the labels and try to avoid all of these unnecessary fillers and chemicals that often are associated with synthetic vitamins.

Therefore, obtaining vitamins from a whole food or whole food concentrate supplement is generally considered preferable as they provide complete vitamins rather than just the fractions of them, along with the necessary minerals and cofactors for optimal vitamin activity. 

These supplements tend to have a longer potency than the synthetic vitamins too, which makes them a little closer to what nature intended.

So the question is left, what to do?

Everyone is biochemically unique and has a different nutritional need, so it is impossible to create a supplement list that one size fits all. 

Thus, we must read labels, use our best judgment and seek out professional advice that tailors a supplemental program to our needs. 

We now see that while synthetic vitamins offer convenience, affordability and sometimes in certain cases, targeted nutritional delivery, their potential drawbacks include limited bioavailability, an incomplete nutrient complex, the possible risk of overconsumption, and concerns about source materials and additives. 

However, there are conditions and situations which warrant their use. It's hard to supplement without using some forms of synthetic vitamins, but this can be done.  

In whole food concentrates you get a balanced mix of essential nutrients working synergistically for maximum benefit. Studies have indicated that this helps us avoid imbalances which could occur in taking large doses of single nutrient or synthetic supplements. 

Besides optimal absorption rates and nutrient balance, whole food concentrates also provide additional health boosting compounds like phytochemicals, particularly antioxidants. Nevertheless, we should wholeheartedly try to obtain nutrients from natural sources like organic fruits and vegetables, meats and other whole foods whenever possible. 

We try to include a variety of colorful vegetables, leafy greens, fruits including berries and citrus with the pulp, alfalfa, sprouts and other types of sprouted seeds, fermented food items, mushrooms, healthy non glutinous grains, and grass fed animal protein sources in your diet - if you aren't vegetarian or vegan. 

If these foods aren't your usual staples, try taking small steps and adding them gradually to your diet. 

Also, you can try incorporating fermented food into your diet such as yogurt, kafir, sauerkraut, pickles, olives, kimchi, natto and more, since it's important to keep the gut healthy and happy for proper absorption. 

And fermenting enhances the vitamins and nutrients within a food, especially the B vitamins. Even more interesting, in one study, B-12 was found to increase by tenfold when milk was fermented.

 Most nutritional experts recommend incorporating small amounts of these in every meal. Well, you can learn more about this from the Internet and from a lot of holistic types of books that talk about nutrition and particularly those that you see at the health food store. 

But if you have a book on sprouts, that would also be a very good book to incorporate because you can do indoor gardening and grow your own sprouts. Sprouts are highly, highly nutritious and helpful to really up your game of nutrition. You could grow sprouts in just a matter of a few days. 

If you need additional vitamins and supplements to your diet, and many people do, most do, buy your supplements with care. 

Look for the ones that come from whole foods or at least are sourced from better sources. Also choose supplements that are blended with synergistic additives such as fruit or vegetable blends. 

Of course, there are some synthetic vitamins to absolutely stay away from. Synthetic vitamin e should generally be avoided. This is the DL tocopherol. So never take DL tocopherol. Always take it from a natural source and a mixed tocopherol is best. 

If you want to take synthetic supplements, and you can't afford to find or can't find whole food based ones, then think of supplementing a good diet so that your diet can be associated with complex and better absorption. 

Lastly, and most importantly, you should always consult your doctor before taking any supplements because many conditions and prescription drugs interact with vitamins. 

Okay, if all this leaves you with more questions than answers. Consult a healthcare professional or nutritionist to determine the most suitable approach for maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. And of course, like I mentioned last time, avoiding seed oils, sugar, and processed foods.

Thank you for your time today, and remember that this podcast is made possible by the Bioregulatory Medicine Institute, also known as BRMI, a nonprofit, global, non political, non commercial institute to promote the science and art of bioregulatory medicine. We extend our gratitude to each and every one of you for listening today, and if you haven't already, make sure to visit us at A treasure trove of invaluable information awaits you there. Connect with us across various social media platforms as well. Come and become a member of our thriving tribe. If you've enjoyed today's episode, we invite you to show your support by rating us, leaving us a review, or sharing the podcast within your circle. Our podcast and mission flourish through sharing, and your participation means the world to us. Our organization is sustained by donations, each of which is tax deductible and fuels projects like this. Visit our website,, to contribute or simply to explore the wealth of uncensored and impartial information we offer. No contribution is too small. In just two weeks, we'll be back delving into another captivating topic. Until then, we thank you once again for listening. May wellness and wisdom be your path. Be well.


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