Natural Sources for Vitamins -According to the September 1997 Journal of Pediatrics, only 1% of American children between the ages of 1 and 20 eat healthy diets. The percentage of American adults who eat a healthy diet is not a whole lot more. With growing realization that modern diets worldwide aren't enhancing health, more and more people are turning to vitamin supplementation. Should they require natural sources for vitamins? Are the cheaper synthetics really just as good? What's the difference?
Just like a car isn't four tires, a transmission, a steering wheel, and an engine, a vitamin isn't nutritionally active by itself. A vitamin complex isn't just an individual chemical, like vitamin C, or even a group of chemicals, like the eight different chemicals that make up vitamin B or the eight different chemicals that make up vitamin E. A vitamin consists of not just the organic ingredient identified as the vitamin, but also its accompanying antioxidants, enzymes, coenzymes, and trace element activators.
All the antioxidants, enzymes, and cofactors are found in natural sources for vitamins. Synthetic vitamins offer just the named ingredient by itself. There are two different ways at looking at which kind of vitamin supplement is better.
A synthetic vitamin is likely to be very potent. It may be manufactured from sugar or coal tar at a pharmaceutical company, but it is not chemically identical to the corresponding vitamin found in food.
A natural vitamin has all the cofactors needed for its use in the body. Natural vitamins aren't as highly concentrated as their synthetic equivalents, but they are far less likely to be overdosed.
A natural vitamin is likely to be better for your health. Medical science has known the importance of natural sources for vitamins for nearly 100 years.
The discoverer of vitamin C, the Hungarian scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgi, isolated vitamin C from paprika, a spice that had been used to treat scurvy. When he gave his synthetic vitamin C concentrate to scurvy patients, however, they did not get well - unless he also gave them a small amount paprika. Szent-Gyorgi named this essential co-factor vitamin P (for paprika), but American pharmaceutical giants cashing in on the new markets for vitamins overlooked the need for co-factors.
Most vitamin C supplements are manufactured from super-refined fructose, or corn sugar. The resulting product is ascorbic acid, commonly equated with vitamin C, but containing none of its co-factors. When you purchase synthetic vitamin C, what you are getting is more like a drug than a nutrient. Because your body needs all the cofactors of vitamin C to use it, if you aren't getting these cofactors from your diet, your body is "burning up" cofactors to use the extra vitamin C. So many cofactors, in fact, that it won't be able to use other vitamins it needs.
Another example of whole food versus synthetic is vitamin E. Recent news stories lead with scary headlines such as "Elderly people could be risking their lives if they take even moderately high doses of vitamin E, evidence suggests." What the stories leave out is the fact that natural sources of vitamin E contain eight different forms of the vitamin, whereas synthetic supplements contain just one. It is entirely possible that taking huge amounts of just one form of vitamin E could cause damage. This damage is avoided if you simply make sure of natural sources for vitamins you take.