The Differences Between Synthetic and Natural Vitamins

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on September 25, 2015

Natural Vitamins

Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins. Whether we get them from our daily diet, from sunshine, or from store bought capsules or liquids, vitamins are vital to our health and to the proper functioning of our bodies.

Vitamin deficiencies lead to a wide range of problems spanning from anorexia to obesity, organ malfunction, confusion, depression and fatigue.

However, whether or not your vitamins are hurting you is another story. What people are not aware of is all vitamins are not created equal, and most are actually synthetic.

What is a “Synthetic” Vitamin?

The type of vitamins that are the most beneficial is up for debate. A healthy, organic diet should provide a good amount of nutrients that the body needs, but supplements can help ensure that we are getting a healthy serving of specific vitamins.

The problem is that many vitamin and mineral supplements are manufactured synthetically with chemicals and do not come straight from their natural sources. They are made to mimic the way natural vitamins act in our bodies. Natural vitamins are derived directly from plant material containing the vitamin, not produced in a test tube.

Many synthetic vitamins lack the transporters and co-factors associated with naturally occurring vitamins because they have been “isolated.” The Organic Consumers Association emphasizes that isolated vitamins cannot be used or recognized by the body in the same way as the natural version [1].

The natural form come in packages with other vitamins, enzymes and minerals that control the way the body recognizes, metabolizes and uses them to make what it needs.

Isolated vitamins can’t always be used by the body, and are either stored until you obtain or create the nutrients required to use them effectively or are excreted. Synthetic vitamins are also devoid of necessary trace minerals and must use the body’s own mineral reserves which may lead to dangerous mineral deficiencies.

Did You Know? More than 95% of all the vitamin supplements sold today fall in to the synthetic category.

What’s the Big Deal About Synthetic Vitamins?

Synthetic versions of vitamins contain chemical compounds that were not meant for human consumption and do not occur in nature. Evolution has dictated that we eat the food we can gather from the earth, not the food we create in a lab.

We might not always get what we’re expecting from synthetics. The synthetic version of Vitamin E is often referred to as the dl- form. The dl- form is a combination of the d-form (which, by the way, is the naturally occurring form) and the l-form. No big deal, right?

Well it might not be, except that the body doesn’t actually use the l-form- we excrete it! I must note here that this applies only to vitamins and not amino acids or sugars. Fat soluble vitamins in their synthetic form are especially dangerous because they can build up in your fatty tissues and cause toxicity. The reason that the synthetic form is more dangerous is because you get a high, concentrated serving of the vitamin rather than the amount that you would get from a food-based form.

  • Vitamins A, D, E and K are all fat soluble
  • Fat soluble vitamins are found naturally in butter, fish oils, nuts, and green leafy vegetables
  • Excesses of fat soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues
  • Most people do not get sufficient amounts of fat soluble vitamins from their diet

How do I know if the vitamins I’m buying are synthetic or natural?

Natural Vitamins

The Organic Consumers Association has published an ingredient chart to help consumers identify natural vs. synthetic vitamins. Many vitamin producers want you to believe that you are getting a “natural product” because it seems more wholesome to take “natural” vitamins.

Unfortunately, vitamins can be labeled as natural if they contain as little as 10% of the natural form of the vitamin. This means that your “natural” vitamin could contain 90% of synthetically produced chemicals! B-Vitamins and Vitamin C are also usually synthetically produced.

Common Synthetic Vitamins to Avoid:

Look for clues on your vitamin’s label that offer insight into the origin of the vitamin.

  • Vitamin A: Retinyl Palmitate
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Thiamine Mononitrate, Thiamine Hydrochloride
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Riboflavin
  • Pantothenic Acid: Calcium D-Pantothenate
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
  • Vitamin B12: Cobalamin
  • PABA (Para-aminobenzoic Acid): Aminobenzoic Acid
  • Folic Acid: Pteroylglutamic Acid
  • Choline: Choline Chloride, Choline Bitartrate
  • Biotin: d-Biotin
  • Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): Ascorbic Acid
  • Vitamin D: Irradiated Ergosteral, Calciferol
  • Vitamin E: dl-alpha tocopherol, dl-alpha tocopherol acetate or succinate

NOTE: The “dl” form of any vitamin is synthetic.

Other Toxic Ingredients to Avoid In Supplements

  • Magnesium stearate (or stearic acid)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) disguised as “natural flavors”
  • Carnauba wax is used in car wax and shoe polish
  • Titanium dioxide is a carcinogen


  1. Brian Clement PhD NMD. Nutri-Con: The Truth About Vitamins & Supplements. The Vitamin Myth Exposed. 2005 December 31.

  • Junie

    This is all based on biased information (synthetics don’t do more harm than good). The difference between the Synthetic and Natural is that synthetic is only half as potent and effective as natural. You still get the benefits but not the full benefits as you would with vitamins made entirely from natural sources.

  • Tk69

    What about ascorbic acid with bioflavonoids?

  • Eric Potratz

    Yes, this is true. MegaFoods, and many other “whole-food” based vitamins are simply synthetic vitamins in disguise. If you see (S. cerevisiae) on the supplement facts that is the indicator.

  • Eric Potratz

    Unfortunately, Standard Process now uses isolated/synthetic vitamins in their products. Back in the 1930s this was not the case, but the company has since changed.

  • Eric Potratz

    You can see from the inclusion of vitamin A palmitate, cholecalciferol, etc in Catalyn… so it can no longer be considered “food-based” as it was in the 1930s. Unfortunately the wisdom of Dr. Royal Lee has been forgotten.

  • Eric Potratz

    1) Specific enzymes? Amylase? Protease? I think what the author is really referring to is the existance of broad spectrum vitamers which cannot be found in synthetic vitamin products. (e.g., beta-carotene vs mixed carotenoids)

    2) The article is not entirely accurate. Practically all synthetic vitamins can be utilized by the body, and this is actually the problem IMO. Synthetic vitamins reach all vital organs and tissues, increase liver production of cyp450, and then increase excretion of the other lesser-known vitamers. (e.g., alpha-tocopherol eliminates gamma-tocopherol)

    Human plasma vitamin E kinetics demonstrate rapid recycling of plasma RRR-alpha-tocopherol
    Traber MG, Ramakrishnan R, Kayden HJ
    Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 1994

    3) Trace minerals not present in synthetic multivitamins? How about cobalt, boron, manganese, vanadium, arsenic, copper, etc.

    If you really want details on the difference between synthetic and plant-based vitamins, click on my profile and check out my featured blog article on vitamins.

  • Eric Potratz

    Not exactly accurate. You miss out on dozens of necessary vitamers from synthetic multivitamins. This create an imbalance in the body, which leads to a number of problems.

    A common misconception is that multivitamins fill nutritional gaps. The truth is, 99% of multivitamins actually create nutritional gaps, as they are completely devoid of necessary vitamers.

  • Eric Potratz


    I think you would be shocked at the lack of research supporting health benefits of synthetic vitamins in humans.

    The studies that has been done, have been very short, very small studies that start with dietary depletion of a given nutrient, followed by repletion with synthetics for several weeks until severe deficiency symptoms subside. (most of these studies where actually done on animals in the 1940-1960s)

    However, any modern study in the last 25 years, which has looked at the long-term effect of synthetic/isolated vitamins has found harmful effects from supplementation For example, alpha-tocopherol is linked to increased risk of stroke, prostate cancer, and shortened life-expectancy.

  • Eric Potratz

    There is no such thing as acetate vitamins on the consumer market that are being extracted from natural sources. If you see an acetate vitamin on a Supplement Facts panel it is synthetic.

  • Christopher Schollar

    I didn’t say that the acetate comes from a natural source. I said a compound having ate in its name doesn’t mean it’s synthetic.

  • saissann

    Eric, do you have an alternative you’d recommend?

  • Eric Potratz

    Saissann, I would say the best 100% plant-based multivitamins on the market right now are Whole Food Multivitamin by Garden of Life myKind Organics and Multivitamin & Mineral by Whole Earth & Sea. My formulation Palm Fruit by Botanical Craft is a plant-based tocotrienol and carotenoid supplement that augments these multivitamins with nutrients that practically all Americans are deficient in.

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  • Guest

    Show studies which support that because what I know your statment is false(and Im toxicologist). Vitamins even synthetic are designed to be ingested after meal with substance that increase absorption. ” but far from harmful (they don’t do more harm than good)” the dose make poison and all act in the same way. Again provide toxicological reports to your claims.

  • Guest

    What is your point? “5-Methyltetrahydrofolate” your points are false. Folic acid reduced and methylated to become the metabolically active form found in blood and utilized by tissues, i.e. 5-methyltetrahydrofolate

  • Tim Monahan

    Good article, i completly agree that nutritious food is much better for you and any tablets. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Westy34215

    Synthetic Vitamin A (as beta -carotene) was banned from prenatal supplements because it was found to cause many birth defects. In adults it causes hair loss, cirrhosis of the liver, water retention, skin diseases and many others. Yet it was not banned. Vitamin C ( as asorbic acid) depletes the real vitamin C in your body. Asorbic acid is only one of many components of the real Vitamin C which comes from vine ripened products and is easily destroyed by heat. The list goes on…. The Author just touched the surface of the problem without giving all the horrid details. Good article. The book “The Calcium Lies” is primarily about how taking calcium doesn’t help strengthen bones. It also goes into the details of each vitamin, why it is needed and how synthetics can harm you.

  • journey

    Any proof? Standard Process still grows their own vegetables, etc to make their products also on the same location which they call “the farm”.

  • Eric Potratz

    Yes. You can see the inclusion of “ascorbic acid” and “vitamin A palmitate” which can be naturally derived but are practically always synthetic if listed as single ingredients without reference to their botanical origin.

  • journey

    Thanks for responding. It’s amazing this thread is still alive.

    I went and checked Standard Process’ “General Health” as an example. It appears they mix synthetic and natural together quite a bit in that product. Since, I just attended one of their seminars yesterday and they always make such a big deal of how natural their products are vs synthetic, I am going to contact them.

    Do you have any opinions regarding Integrative Therapeutics and Biodesign? I have obtained good results with their products. Have used them for years. Almost no results with Standard Process but it appears they have quite a following.

  • Eric Potratz

    It seems that both those brands have some products with synthetic ingredients which may be appropriate in rare cases. I generally stay away from synthetics (e.g., single isolated minerals, aminos, vitamins, etc). Broad spectrum supplementation is my preferred method. (e.g., trace minerals, proteins, plant-based phytonutrient extracts, etc)

  • journey

    Would you mind mentioning the natural supplements that you prefer? It appears there are studies showing the adverse effects from synthetic vitamins. Of course, studies can be manipulated to show whatever. Thanks, again.

  • Eric Potratz

    Top brands for multivitamins are the MyKind Organics by Garden of Life and the multivitamins by Whole Earth & Sea. Naturally I also recommend my own formulation Palm Fruit by Botanical Craft.

  • Ronnie Craddock

    I am amazed that this Great Multivitamin being recommended here has cyanide bonded B-12 in it. And the methyl bonded is useless in a multivitamin.Needs to be sub-lingual to be absorbed. It has both forms. I don’t do cyanide. So much for this Great Multivitamin.I will keep searching.

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