Natural vs Synthetic Vitamins
Peruse the shelves of any health food store and you'll find a surprising array of choices for each particular vitamin, mineral, herb, dietary supplement or combination thereof. Beyond the myriad of brand and formula options out there, you have to decide between "natural" or "synthetic" products. So what exactly is the difference?
Like the names imply, natural vitamins are in a form that occurs in nature while synthetic vitamins are manufactured in a laboratory. The benefit of synthetic vitamins is that they are cheaper to make, therefore less expensive for the consumer. Synthetic vitamins are produced with the same molecular and chemical structure as their natural vitamin counterparts, so they would seem to be a viable supplement option for the health of both your body and wallet.
However, natural vitamins may be worth the few extra dollars they command. Vitamins in nature occur within a family of micro-nutrients (things like trace elements, enzymes, co-factors and other unknown factors) that help them absorb into the human body and function to their full potential. Natural vitamin supplements extracted from whole food sources maintain this delicate balance of complementary co-nutrients and are more biologically active.
Synthetic vitamins are usually isolated into that one pure chemical, thereby missing out on some of the additional benefits that nature intended. These man-made vitamin formulas often contain fillers, stabilizers and/or salts that decrease the content of what you want to ingest, may inhibit absorption and can actually deplete the body of other nutrients. Dollar for dollar, you may be absorbing more vitamins and getting more benefits from a natural supplement than the seemingly cheaper synthetic version.
Read supplement labels carefully to distinguish the natural from the synthetic. Some products marketed as "natural" only contain 10% natural ingredients. You're best bet is to look for food sources on the labels - things like citrus, yeast, fish or vegetable names. If there is a chemical-sounding name or no source listed, it is most likely a synthetic vitamin.
The bottom line is synthetic vitamins are probably better than no vitamin supplements at all, but Mother Nature's formulas cannot be topped by a lab.