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Natural vs. Synthetic

Synthetic or Natural? 
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What’s the Difference Between Natural and Synthetic Vitamins?

Nobody really likes what I have to say on this subject.  Vitamin salespeople think it’s too medical, and medical people think it’s too quacky. 

And, to be fair, the answer is an inherently awkward one.

Most vitamin products, even those sold in health food stores or by distributors, contain synthetic vitamin powders. There are only a few manufacturers of vitamin powders, and they are almost always large pharmaceutical companies.  Generally,

a)  Laboratory-made vitamins are far cheaper than whole food concentrates;
b)  Synthetic vitamins USUALLY work quite well,
c) High potency can be achieved with a nice, small tablet size.

One of the chief differences in “health food store” vs “drug store” brands is what is not in the tablet.  For example, the natural brands leave out artificial chemical colors, which is a good thing to do. Just about all brands contain tablet fillers and excipients, needed to physically hold the pill together. Since these will vary, the only way to find out exactly who uses what is to write to the company and find out. 

Some tableting ingredients are pretty standard, such as magnesium stearate or stearic acid, sodium citrate, dicalcium phosphate, cellulose and silica. I consider these harmless fillers to be "natural enough" for me.

Vitamins can legally be called “Natural” even if made in a laboratory. You would not think so, but it is true. Vitamin C, for example, is factory-made from starch. Starch is certainly natural, so the product can be termed “Natural.”  Is this starch-based vitamin C identical to orange-juice vitamin C?  Most biochemists say yes, because: 


1) they appear to have identical molecular structure

2) vitamin C in animal bodies is made from carbohydrates anyway, and
3) the product is clinically effective.


But the actual molecular construction process is not identical. Factories do not use L-gulonolactone oxidase from animal liver to make vitamin C.  Nor do they copy the orange tree’s plant metabolism. Can one get an identical product from a different process?  Probably; there is more than one way to skin an enzyme. But the real test must be, does the vitamin in front of you prevent and cure disease.

Drs. Linus Pauling, Ewan Cameron, Robert Cathcart and others have established that very high doses of factory-made ascorbic acid vitamin C work just fine against viral and bacterial illness. It is possible that food concentrate vitamin C may be superior.  Let’s say it was twice as good.  But to use 40,000 milligrams (mg) of orange juice C, instead of 80,000 mg of synthetic ascorbic acid, is impractical, bordering on the impossible.  It would be too expensive, either to manufacture all this from oranges, or to eat from the oranges. It would take roughly 600 oranges to obtain 40,000 mg of vitamin C.  Even if natural C were TEN times as effective, which I sincerely doubt, it would still take well over 100 oranges a day to do the job. 

My recommendation?  When you are sick, eat as many oranges (and other vitamin-C rich fruits) as you can, while you also take tens of thousands of milligrams of cheap, supplemental ascorbic acid vitamin C.

In some cases, the natural form of a vitamin IS clearly superior to the synthetic form.  The best example is vitamin E. The natural form of vitamin E is called "D-ALPHA TOCOPHEROL," and is made from vegetable oil. The synthetic form is DL-alpha tocopherol. Not a big difference in name, is it. There is considerable evidence that the natural "D" (dextro-, or right-handed) molecular form of Vitamin E is far more useful to the body than is the synthetic. The natural form is also more expensive, but not much more. In choosing a vitamin E supplement, you should carefully read the label... the ENTIRE label. It is remarkable how many natural-looking brown bottles with natural-sounding brand names contain the synthetic form. 

As you learn more and make your choices, I need to emphasize that I offer neither endorsement nor advice about any particular brand of supplement. Email requests for product recommendations will not receive a reply.

Different types (not brands) of supplements are considered at

“Buffering” ascorbic acid is covered at

and the bioflavinoids (vitamin C cofactors) are discussed at


Copyright 2003 and prior years by Andrew W. Saul.


Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


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