This article first appeared in Today's Dallas Woman, Aug. 1998

Natural vs. Synthetic Vitamins

You're coming down with a cold and your friend advises you to pop a lot of vitamin C with your chicken soup. Your neighbor's best friend's cousin proceeds to tell you how mega-doses of zinc have kept her healthy for the past five years.


You rush to your corner market, only to be faced with rows upon rows of bottled vitamins and powders. Unsure of what is considered the "best kind," you pick one out at random, assuming all the supplements are alike. That assumption, however, can be dangerous, especially if the supplement you've chosen is of synthetic manufacture. Heavy doses of synthetic supplements can cause many problems ranging from birth defects, to kidney problems, to diabetes.


Our cells need adequate nutrients and minerals to survive and thrive. Without proper nourishment, those cells can sicken and die. And a lot of us don't receive the complete nutrients we need. We're constantly eating on the run, eating out frequently or forgetting to eat altogether. Even those who eat fruits and vegetables may not be getting quality vitamins and minerals these days. Unless home grown or organic, produce comes from commercial farms using fertilizers and other chemicals that leach trace nutrients from the soil.


There are two basic types of vitamins on the market: synthetic and natural. Synthetic vitamins have been formed in a laboratory by reconstructing the vitamin molecule chemically. Natural vitamins are made from food concentrates such as carrot powder, wheat germ, or buckwheat and their molecular and biochemical combinations remain untampered with.


Synthetic supplements are less expensive, but synthetic vitamins can actually be harmful to your system. The human body doesn't use these synthetic materials as it would more natural foods to repair tissues, boost immunity or sustain cell life. In addition, true whole food concentrates work in partnership with one another as complex nutrients. Synthetic supplements have been split into solo entities, which does little for the human body, and in many cases, can cause some harm. Huge doses of vitamins A and D can be dangerous. But even the so-called "innocuous" synthetic vitamins - like vitamin C - can cause problems. Some manufacturers of vitamin C create it from the synthetic "ascorbic acid" because it's less expensive and lasts longer. Large doses of this material have been found to cause collagen disease, rebound scurvy, kidney stones and impaired mineral metabolism. In another instance, when zinc is taken in mega-doses, it can result in symptoms of zinc deficiency. The immune system could be destroyed, rather than boosted. Vitamin E, a vitamin heralded for its cancer-fighting abilities, was recently tested (along with the cancer-fighter beta-carotene) in Finnish male smokers as protection against lung cancer. The New England Journal of Medicine noted that the smokers in the study who ingested normal doses of synthetic vitamin E and beta-carotene actually had a higher incidence of lung cancer, more heart attacks and an 8 percent higher overall death rate.


The best supplements and vitamins for you are those that are made from natural, organic foods. Remember, no one nutrient provides a panacea for everyone, so work with your health care professional in choosing supplements that are best for you.

Suzan J. Smith, D.C., is a chiropractor in Carrollton. She teaches yoga classes on a regular basis. She has released a yoga video for beginners and intermediates and a second yoga video for pregnant women.

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