For thousands of years human beings gained nutrients and vitamins from food. It makes sense when you think about how we survived as a species, but scientifically why don’t re-created vitamins work the same way as the ones naturally found in food?
Here are 3 reasons why synthetic/isolated vitamins don’t work:
- A 2002 study concluded that neither synthetic or partially synthetic nutrients could match real ones in absorption, retention and utilization by the body.
- Food is complex. It contains dozens of micronutrients, cofactors, enzymes and phytonutrients that work synergistically together. In food, vitamins are in the form of enzymes or coenzymes. Changes to these natural structures destroys the nutritious effect that these nutrients have in our body.
- They’re not in the right quantities. Taking isolated nutrients can cause dangerous imbalances in the body. “Too much” of one nutrient can seriously affect values of others (such as excess Vitamin D creating Magnesium deficiency and excess Zinc creating Copper deficiency).
Whole food nutrients VS isolated chemicals
Organic whole food grown in natural climates offers optimal health benefits. This includes seeds, nuts, legumes, fruits, grains and vegetables. The complex structure of the nutrients and vitamins found in these foods simply cannot be replicated in a lab. It’s kind of like if you asked someone for a carrot and they gave you a beta carotene pill. The carrot will give you a full spectrum of nutrition that your body understands how to naturally break down and use. The pill on the other hand is offering your body one, solo isolated vitamin.
We know that a diet full of fruits and vegetables has been associated with reducing the risk of many chronic diseases associated with aging, such as cancer,1,2,3,4,5,6,7 cardiovascular disease,8,9,10 stroke,11,12 Alzheimer’s disease,13 osteoporosis,14, 15 and diabetes 16,17. Most of us could add more fruits and veggies to our diet, but the problem isn’t just poor food choices. Stress, digestion issues, disease and medications can also create nutritional deficiencies. When this is the case, often food is not enough and we need supplements to get the nutrients we need to promote health and well-being.
Anti-nutrients & how they cause deficiencies
“Anti-nutrient: a substance that interferes with the utilization of one or more nutrient(s)” Synthetic vitamins are partial nutrients that can act like “anti-nutrients” because they are missing synergists (i.e. micronutrients, cofactors, and phytonutrients) that are required to transform the vitamins into energy. The body must then rob its own stores setting the stage for nutritional deficiencies. When a nutrient isn’t in it’s natural state, it offers very little to your body. Some milks for example are fortified with calcium. This means synthetic calcium is added into milk. Our bodies can’t naturally or easily absorb synthetic minerals, because that’s not the way our digestive systems work! Isolated and fortified proteins, vitamins and minerals are all absorbed very differently when compared to those found naturally in food.
The power of synergy
It’s believed the synergistic effects of phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables are responsible for their potent antioxidant activities, and the health promoting effects that we see in diets rich in fruit and vegetables.18 This explains why no single antioxidant can replace the combination of natural phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables to achieve the health benefits. The whole sum total is greater than it’s parts.
If your supplements aren’t giving you whole foods, but instead isolated forms of nutrients, you need to rethink your vitamins. For more information on why even the healthiest eaters still need supplements, check out: Why your body needs more fruits and veggies.
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18. WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, 2003