Millions of Americans take a multiple vitamin/mineral supplement.  The marketplace is loaded with different formulas of these kinds of products.  A number of these products are made from synthetically made vitamins and inorganic minerals.  Some products are made by using vitamins and minerals derived from plant sources or produced by using various fermentation techniques.  Still other products are powdered or dehydrated juices of various plants. 


       Many vitamins found in multiples are synthetic.  They are made from combining various chemicals derived from petroleum and coal tar.  Some vitamins are made from processed food nutrients.  Vitamin C is commonly made by reacting corn derived glucose with sulfuric acid.  Some products have vitamins extracted from a food source. This process involves the use of chemicals, solvents and heat to reduce the vitamins to their crystalline form (isolated form).  B vitamins are often processed in this manner from Brewer's Yeast.  Both synthetic and food derived crystalline vitamins are isolates.  Such vitamins are detached (isolated) from other nutrients that they are normally attached to in nature.  

       For example, vitamin C in a plant is found complexed with bioflavonoids and other nutrients that appear to make this vitamin better utilized when ingested from a plant source as opposed to ingesting it as synthesized or crystalline ascorbic acid.  Some research indicates vitamin C is absorbed up to 30% more when combined with bioflavonoids.  Vitamin E in plants is a complex of four tocopherols and four tocotrienols.  Most vitamin E supplements only provide one tocopherol (d alpha tocopherol).   If your supplement label lists vitamin E as dl alpha tocopherol, it is a combination of around 50% synthetic vitamin E and 50% vitamin E derived from a vegetable oil.  Studies show synthetic vitamin E is not well utilized by the body.  

How do plants make vitamins?

       Plants take up inorganic minerals from the soil and through photosynthesis make vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, enzymes and a host of other nutrients.  All these nutrients are interfaced with each other in multiple ways.  When we eat plants or the animals that eat the plants, we are not ingesting isolated nutrients but are consuming nutrients in the various combinations found in the plants and animals we consume.  While our bodies can take in isolated nutrients and work in ways to make those nutrients available to our cells, research has shown that nutrients ingested from living organisms (plant or animal) produce greater health and wellbeing. 

Organic versus inorganic:

       Technically speaking, vitamins made from petroleum and coal tar can be called organic because petroleum and coal tar are believed to result from the  decomposition of plant and animal material which has carbon and hydrogen; the two elements that define a substance as organic versus inorganic.  In the nutritional world, however, organic vitamins and minerals are defined as nutrients complexed with amino acids, enzymes and many other nutrients that give life to a plant or animal  Organic is also defined as plants and animals that have not being exposed to chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc.   


       In their inorganic form, minerals are often referred to as elemental or metallic minerals.  These elemental minerals are taken up by plants and combined with many other nutrients resulting in them becoming organic minerals.  In some mineral supplements, the minerals are inorganic mineral salts derived from rocks.  One example is calcium carbonate derived from limestone.  Some manufactures add various acids to these inorganic minerals in order to make them more available for utilization in the body.  For example, calcium citrate is calcium carbonate processed with lactic and citric acid.  This process is called chelation from a Greek word which means to grab onto.  Amino acids from proteins are often used as chelating agents.

       Soil is basically broken down rock.  In soil that has an abundance of decaying plant and animal waste material, the action of millions of microbes working on this material produces a number of fulvic and humic acids which break down the mineral matter of rocks and make it available to be absorbed and utilized by plants.  When we eat these plants, we assimilate these minerals which have been changed by the plant from inorganic to organic. Unfortunately, years of chemical farming has resulted in little plant or animal material being returned to the soil to decompose and create the acids necessary to provide the 70 or so minerals required for our health.  Therefore much of the food we eat is deficient in minerals.  

       Organic fulvic and humic acid derived minerals are available in supplemental form.  These supplements are made from decayed plant material rich in minerals made available to plants by the action of these acids.  These supplements are often made by processing this plant based mineral material into a liquid medium as very small particles called colloids.   These products can be consumed to provide the necessary minerals we need for good health.

       Inorganic minerals have an electromagnetic charge that is positive.  Plants convert a mineral's electromagnetic charge from positive to negative.  While the process is complex, it has been found that negatively charged minerals are better absorbed.  Plant based colloidal minerals have a negative charge whereas mineral colloids made from clay or ancient sea beds have a positive charge.  When purchasing a colloidal mineral product, be careful to distinguish between colloids made from plant material and colloids made from metallic mineral material.  Choose the plant based mineral supplement.

Types of vitamin/mineral supplements:

       Most vitamin/mineral supplements contain USP (United States Pharmacopia) nutrients which is an established standard for minerals and synthetic/crystalline vitamins.  This standard confirms that such nutrients are pure, safe, and a replica of the same molecule found in food.  USP minerals are inorganic elemental mineral isolates (minerals unattached to any other nutrients), or they are minerals attached (chelated) to some acid so that the mineral is better absorbed.  An example of a USP synthetic vitamin is Cyanocobalamin (vitamin B-12).  An example of a USP mineral is sodium selenite (selenium).  Selenomethionine is another form of USP selenium but this form is obtained from food.  However, it is still an isolate as is sodium selenite.  Both of these forms are detached from the many nutrients they are normally complexed with in food. 

       Some companies mix a variety of food extracts and herbs in with the USP vitamins and minerals to provide a synergistic blend of food nutrients and the USP nutrients used to make the product. 

         Food grown supplements:

        Food grown vitamin/mineral supplements are made by feeding USP nutrients to various yeasts and/or probiotic bacteria and having these organisms metabolize the USP nutrients into their cellular structure.  These organisms are then used to make the supplement.  One company also adds protein peptides to the USP vitamins and minerals to enhance the uptake of these nutrients by the yeast.  Brewer's yeast (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) is commonly used as the fermenting agent in this type of processing.  This process allows for the USP nutrients to combine with enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids and other nutrients common to the yeast or probiotic organisms.  This process results in the USP vitamins and minerals no longer being isolates.  They are now part of the nutritional matrix that makes up the cellular structure of the yeast or probiotic and can be rightly called organic.

       Food concentrates:

       Food concentrates are made when pulverized parts of various plants are made into a dry powder which can be mixed in water or some other beverage and consumed.  Some companies juice parts of plants and dehydrate the juice into a powder which concentrates the nutrients more than is the case with pulverized powdered products.  These kinds of products are 100% food as no USP nutrients are added.  In addition to vitamins and minerals, these kinds of products provide a wide range of enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids and antioxidants that are normally found in food.

Is there a difference between synthetic and food vitamins?

       A synthetic vitamin is an isolate. It is a stand alone nutrient that the body must combine with other nutrients in order to be utilized. On the other hand, a food vitamin enters the body already combined with enzymes, amino acids and other nutrients necessary for its utilization.  Synthetic/crystalline vitamins are readily absorbed into the bloodstream.  However, there is a difference between absorption and utilization.  Research has shown that a vitamin complexed with other nutrients produces a greater health effect than administration of such vitamin as an isolated nutrient.  This indicates there are intrinsic factors associated with vitamins found in foods that are not present in synthetics.  

       While it is claimed that synthetic vitamins are exact chemical copies of vitamins found in food, it has been demonstrated that there is a difference in molecular configuration between synthetic and food based nutrients.  Even though synthetic vitamins, amino acids and other synthetically made nutrients have the same atoms as their food based counterparts, there is a difference in their molecular structure.  When a beam of polarized light is passed through a solution of synthetic versus plant produced nutrients, the synthetics rotate the light to the left and the plant produced nutrients rotated the light to the right.  Nutrients that rotate to the left are labeled as being in the L (l) configuration and nutrients that rotate to the right are labeled as being in the D (d) configuration.  You can use this nomenclature to distinguish between a synthetic and a natural nutrient.  As discussed above, vitamin E that appears on a label as dl alpha tocopherol is 50% synthetic while vitamin E labeled as d alpha tocopherol is 100% from a food source.  

What should you do?     

       Your best source of nutrition is to eat an abundance of foods grown on organically fertilized soils where manures and plant material is returned to the soil allowing for its continual enrichment.  Unfortunately, much of the food we consume is not grown in such soil but is instead grown in soil were plants are fed chemically produced inorganic salts, such as ammonium nitrate, ammonium phosphate and potassium sulfate.  This process has resulted in soil becoming devoid of organic material including the bacteria and worms that break down rock material into their constituent minerals.

       To insure you are getting the vitamins, minerals and many other nutrients needed by the body on a daily basis, I recommend consuming a green food concentrate made from the dehydrated juice of organically grown cereal grasses such as barley or wheat.  One such product is BarleyLife which is available at Milk ‘N Honey.  Consuming nutrient dense products such as Brewer's Yeast and Bee Pollen will also provide good overall nutrition to the body.  Second in line are the food grown multiples discussed above.  At Milk ‘N Honey we carry these types of products from the company Garden of Life and the company New Chapter.  Third in line would be the multiples that combine food extracts with USP nutrients and chelate their minerals for better absorption.  I recommend staying away from the wholly synthetic multiples where utilization of nutrients in such products may be compromised due to the absence of nutritional co-factors that are needed to be present for proper utilization to occur.