Organic vs Synthetic Vitamins: Are Organic Better?

Man and woman looking at vitamins

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A 2017 study found that the lack of regulation of commercialized vitamin supplements caused them to be unsafe, leading to many recalls and false claims. Due to this, and other studies regarding synthetic vitamins, many individuals began to wonder if a multivitamin, or other vitamin supplement, provided benefits to their overall health.

Within this discussion, an individual's diet, as well as how supplements can work alongside their organic nutrient intake, must be considered.

Synthetic Vitamins vs Organic Vitamins

Organic—or whole foods—vitamins are readily available in natural, nutritious foods like meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables. These foods can be turned into powder for a more readily available vitamin, but they are still considered "whole foods." For example, dehydrating a fruit and putting it into capsule form creates an organic vitamin, but it still originated as a whole food.

Synthetic vitamins are isolated vitamins. These vitamins are compounds, created in a lab, that mimic natural vitamins. Some examples of synthetic vitamins include bottles of vitamin D or biotin supplements. Synthetic vitamins are readily available in most pharmacies and stores.

Absorption and Variety of Vitamins

Evidence suggests that the body more easily absorbs some vitamins in their natural form. It is theorized that this is partly due to the variety of nutrients and enzymes in food.

In addition, some enzymes and nutrients assist with the absorption of other vitamins. For example, one older study affiliated with the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences determined that organic vitamin E has twice the availability of its synthetic counterpart. This means that the body much more easily absorbs organic vitamin E than it does synthetic vitamin E.

With this in mind, it seems that some synthetic vitamins, like vitamin E, cannot easily replace organic and naturally occurring vitamins. However, according to Rachel Baker, registered dietitian and Manager of Scientific Content and Communications at GNC, it is possible for some synthetic vitamins to be easier to absorb than their naturally occurring counterparts.

Baker also notes that absorption rate may depend on the presence of other nutrients within the body.

Benefits of Synthetic Vitamins

Many studies argued the benefits of a multivitamin, but overall the data is inconclusive. When considering specific individuals, however, a multivitamin is considered beneficial for those who are vitamin deficient, vegetarian, or elderly.

For an average individual in good health, multivitamins are not the first choice for gaining nutrients. Ideally, a well-rounded diet accomplishes that. However, it is better to gain those nutrients through a multivitamin than going without.

The benefits of synthetic vitamins have been studied in a variety of different ways, often focusing on the vitamins' affects on cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, and blood health. While these studies may provide perspective regarding how synthetic vitamins can be helpful, research is lacking and the data is often inconsistent or inconclusive.

Vitamin Deficiencies

There are many necessary vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. Vitamin supplements are beneficial for those with vitamin deficiencies, such as an iron or vitamin B12 deficiency. Doctors often recommend vitamin supplements for these people; it is essential to consult a health care professional for the recommended safe dosage. Some individuals who may benefit from additional supplements include:

Vegetarians and Vegans

While these plant-based and meatless diets can contain all of the necessary nutrients, those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are more prone to certain nutrient deficiencies. This is due to the fact that certain nutrients may not be as readily available in plant products as they are in animal products.

For example, those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are at risk for vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc deficiencies.

Studies suggest that lower-dose vitamin supplements help avoid these deficiencies, even those with a fully nutritious vegetarian diet. It is important to take lower-dose supplements to prevent vitamin overdose, unless your doctor recommends otherwise. 

Post-Menopausal Women

Many post-menopausal women take vitamin supplements to prevent cardiovascular disease, common cancers, or other fatal conditions.

Yet research by the Division of Public Health Sciences concludes that a multivitamin has little to no influence on any of the conditions mentioned above, or even general mortality, in post-menopausal women.

This does not mean that vitamin supplements are harmful, but rather that their beneficial influence on mortality is insignificant or inconclusive. The study also provides evidence that there is no fatal risk to taking supplemental vitamins as a post-menopausal woman.

The Elderly

People of older age are at risk for certain vitamin deficiencies. They are especially at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to atrophic gastritis. A study affiliated with the USDA concluded that supplements could assist in preventing atrophic gastritis.

It was also found that the combination of calcium and vitamin D supplements helped prevent osteoporosis in those 50 years of age or older. This means that synthetic supplements for calcium and vitamin D can help prevent bone loss and bone fracture. 

A Word From VeryWell

While synthetic vitamins can benefit certain individuals, everyone should aim for a personalized, nutritious diet. You should not use synthetic vitamins to replace organic nutrients entirely. Always consult a health care professional about taking vitamins and the proper dosage for those vitamins.

If you experience any adverse symptoms to supplements in your diet, see a health care professional right away.

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