Synthetic or Natural Vitamins – What’s The Difference?

by Dr. Laura Mason-Scarborough

Hold the Fritos, and pass the carrots. Most kids today are not eating what they need for proper growth and general health. According to the September ‘97 Journal of Pediatrics, only 1% of American children aged 2 to 19 eat healthy diets. With a rapidly growing kid’s vitamin industry, it is apparent that more and more parents are turning to vitamins to supplement their children’s diets. Do we really know how safe these products are? Can they fully replace the nutrients in spinach or apples? Is there a difference between vitamin products on the market?

What Are Vitamins?

Before we can answer these questions, we must know exactly what vitamins are. In Judith DeCava’s book, The Real Truth about Vitamins and Antioxidants, she defines a vitamin as “a complex mechanism…of functional, interrelated, interdependent components. A vitamin consists of, not only the organic nutrient(s) identified as the vitamin, but also enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants and trace element activators.” A vitamin complex is not simply an individual chemical or several chemicals. It must contain all factors that make up the vitamin in its entirety. Just like a car is not four tires, nor a wheel, nor an engine, but rather it is a “car” when all parts are complete and working together.

Two Viewpoints

There are two points of view when it comes to supplements. One is that vitamin parts can be synthesized, in high concentrates (high potency). This is the principle followed by most supplement manufacturers, the majority of which are pharmaceutical companies. These vitamins are termed “synthetic”. (Though they can be labeled “natural” even if they come from sugar or coal tar).

The other viewpoint is that vitamins and mineral elements are so complex, and have so many parts that are dependent upon each other, that when separated they no longer can produce a normal nutritional effect on the body. According to this theory, an overdose of any one vitamin, as it occurs with separated out or synthetic vitamins, can be hazardous to the body. Complete vitamins, with all of their parts and necessary cofactors are often termed “whole food vitamins”, since they are derived entirely from whole foods.

Vitamin C is Not Simply Ascorbic Acid

An excellent example of the difference between whole food and synthetic supplements, is vitamin C. The majority of books and magazines on the subject of nutrition refer to vitamin C as ascorbic acid. These terms are used interchangeably. However, vitamin C is not simply ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is the outer skin of vitamin C, much like the skin of an orange. Vitamin C also contains bioflavonoid complexes, tyrosinase, and several other factors. What do you get if you purchase a synthesized bottle of vitamin C? You are buying ascorbic acid, a small part of vitamin C, manufactured from super-refined corn sugar. Ascorbic acid does have strong effects on the body but is more of a drug than a nutrient. Because your body needs all parts of a vitamin to function, it will leech the other necessary cofactors from itself in order to use the ascorbic acid. This puts a lot of extra stress on your body, according to Dennis Nelson, in his book, Maximizing Nutrition.

Another example of whole food versus synthetic is vitamin B complex. Coal tar is the source of many synthetic B vitamins. Coal tar is not alive, and research confirms that it does not work as well in our bodies as natural sources of B vitamins, such as wheat germ.

What is Best For Our Children?

What is in the best interests for our children? According to many nutritionists, including Dr. Betsy Meshbesher, a nutritionist and owner of a national vitamin company, whole, organic foods in their natural state are best. Feeding your children organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains instead of potato chips, macaroni and cheese, granola bars and other highly processed foods will give them the nutrients they need to be healthy. What do you do if your child won’t eat nearly enough whole foods? Then use whole food vitamins such as wheat germ oil, which provides a substantial amount of vitamin E complex as well as other vital nutrients. Or use rice bran syrup or nutritional yeast, which are excellent sources of the vitamin B complex.

How do we know if the vitamins are working? Let me relate my personal story, which illustrates how I learned the hard way about the efficacy of vitamins. One and a half years ago my daughter was born prematurely. By the time she was three months old she had chronic bronchitis, cradle cap, a persistent diaper rash, and very white porcelain skin. Though she was breastfeeding, it was apparent that she needed additional help. Liquid infant vitamin drops for several weeks did nothing to change her health condition. After thoroughly researching nutrition and consulting with several nutritionists, I started her on cod liver oil (an organic source), which is rich in vitamins A and D; rice bran syrup full of the vitamin Bs, iron, and other essential nutrients; wheat germ oil, rich in vitamin E; a liquid mineral supplement, and a whole food vitamin C tablet, which I crushed. By mixing my breast milk with tiny amounts of all of these nutrients, (as well as acidophilus-healthy bacteria that fight off bad bacteria in the body) she was able to fully recover within two to four weeks.

Her lungs completely cleared and she has not even had a cold in the past year. She has never again had a rash on her bottom. Her cradle cap rapidly disappeared, replaced with beautiful shiny red hair. Her skin changed from white porcelain to beautiful creamy pink. She looks healthier and she is healthier.

In summary, it is best to feed your children the healthiest foods possible because food is the best medicine. However, if your child does not eat well or has a health condition that is not resolving, try whole food concentrates. Skip the funny cartoon vitamins that look and taste like candy. They may actually be harming instead of helping your kids.

Dr. Laura Mason-Scarborough is a chiropractor, nutritionist, writer and mother. She lives with her family in Clearwater, Florida.

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