Synthetic Vitamins vs. Whole Food Vitamins
What You Need To Know
By Beverly Cangialosi
c2009 WholeFood-Nutrition.com 2
Table of Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Chapter 1 Two Philosophies of Science and Orthodoxy . . . 5
Chapter 2 Synthetic Vitamins vs. Whole Food Vitamins . . . 10
What are Vitamins?
Whole Food Vitamins
Chapter 3 Evidence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Chapter 4 Sources of Whole Food Vitamins . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Not as Easy as it Looks
Sources of Whole Food Supplements
Reading Product Labels
Whole Food Supplement Companies
c2009 WholeFood-Nutrition.com 3
The information contained in this report is largely drawn from the work of
Judith DeCava, CNC, LNC, and has been influenced by the work of Patrick
Shelley, Dr. Richard Drucker PhD, and Dr. Bruce Lipton, M.D. All opinions
expressed are my own.
The information contained here has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug
Administration or any other governmental authority unless otherwise
specifically noted. All opinions expressed are my own and are in no way
intended to offer health advice. Anyone seeking help is advised to consult
with their physician or other health care professional. The statements
contained here are not intended to encourage anyone to avoid seeking medical
All statements contained here are for educational purposes only.
c2009 WholeFood-Nutrition.com 4
First Things First
This report is intended for health conscious individuals who are taking or
who would like to take supplements to maintain or improve their health. For
those individuals, it is vitally important to have good information if they are to
make an informed decision about the quality and efficacy of the products that
they buy. Nothing could be more important in that discussion than the nature of
synthetic vitamins vs. whole food vitamins. Is there a difference? Do they work
the same way in the body?
But, before we get to that, I think it is important to take a look at the way
in which we determine scientific truth. Once that is understood, it will be easier
to evaluate the evidence.
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Two Philosophies of Science and Orthodoxy
There are two philosophies and approaches possible when searching for
truth. They have been in conflict with each other for millennia. Ancient Greek
philosophers were debating the subject a very long time ago.
Science in the Western Tradition can be considered Reductionist. The
familiar concept that “the whole is the sum of its parts” characterizes this
approach. Another way of saying that is that everything can be broken down
into ever smaller and smaller parts until you have the basic building blocks.
These building blocks, when understood, account for every quality seen in the
whole. This has been largely the approach taken in the West.
The cornerstone of western science has been the scientific method. This
method depends on three fundamental things—observation, measurement, and
repeatability. As science developed, emphasis was placed on the repeatability
factor. It became more and more dependent on the verifiability of test results.
To assure that test results could be reproduced and verified by someone else,
only one variable was allowed. The obvious result was that western science
tends to isolate factors that can be controlled experimentally each and every
time that the experiment is run. By understanding the isolated constituent to its
fullest, the hope is that all of the characteristics of the whole can be accounted
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for and understood. If something is not understood about the whole, it is
thought to be because we don’t know everything there is to know about the
constituents that make up that whole. This approach worked well for classical
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, the problem with this approach is
that it is not useful when looking at biological systems. Living systems are
highly complex and interrelated. Isolating one factor can lead to the exclusion
of important information. For example, if there is more than one constituent
part contributing to a quality seen in the whole, the interrelatedness of these
two constituents may be overlooked.
There is an alternative approach to classical science that is gaining
ground. At once ancient and new, it recognizes that “the whole is greater than
the sum of its parts”. Holism asserts that it is impossible to fully understand a
whole thing by dividing it into its constituent parts because to do so changes it.
It ceases to be what you started with and behaves very differently than the
original. To illustrate this, if you take water (H2O) and divide it into its
constituent parts, you get two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of
oxygen—neither one of which bears any resemblance to water. In fact, both
hydrogen and oxygen are explosive gases, whereas water is a completely inert
liquid. In this case water is a completely new thing with completely different
qualities from its two atoms when separated. There are those who now believe
that our understanding cannot progress until we develop a method for looking
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at whole systems and accounting for the interrelatedness of the parts to the
whole. And there is no place that this is more true than in the biological
Underlying assumptions are always difficult to challenge. We are all
familiar with the case of Galileo who suffered at the hands of the Church for
his belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun—a very dangerous belief to
hold when the Church had declared that the Sun revolved around the Earth.
But what we should also be aware of is that it can be no less dangerous today to
hold beliefs that are considered unorthodox.
Science (operating largely as a reductionist enterprise) has successfully
convinced the world that it is a completely impartial discoverer of truth and
that it has no agenda other than the truth. Yet, those who challenge the
established orthodoxy can and have been cruelly treated. Professional
organizations have mercilessly persecuted many people who challenged their
established views. Some honest researchers who were ahead of their time were
hounded out of business, prosecuted and had their good names destroyed for
espousing ideas contrary to the prevailing view.
A good example of this is the case of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis who realized
in 1847 that if doctors would wash their hands before treating a patient that
lives would be saved. He based his conclusions on his observations in a
maternity ward where the death rate from puerperal fever was extremely high.
Not only was he ignored and ridiculed by his fellow doctors, he eventually had
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a nervous breakdown and died in an insane asylum. His vindication came only
after his death. Truth sometimes has to fight to be recognized. If we are to
search for truth, we must keep this in mind.
Vitamins were discovered around the turn of the last century. Their vital
role in metabolism and disease prevention and cure was established. Following
their discovery, chemical isolates were produced and a period of intense
research took place. Between 1920-60 there was great controversy among
researchers and scientists about the effectiveness of synthetic vitamins. During
this period, a large number of experiments were conducted that questioned their
effectiveness and safety.1
However, in 1962 the misguided Kefauver Law was passed at the urging
of medical special interests that had a devastating effect on the future studies
and dissemination of information concerning nutrients. It defined a drug as any
“Articles intended for the use in diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or
prevention of disease.” In one fell swoop, the regulation of nutritional
substances came under the jurisdiction of the same agency that regulates drugs.
From that time forward, no claims of any kind concerning the curative power
of nutrients has been allowed unless the nutrient has been tested using the same
protocols as drug testing. 2
One of the inevitable consequences was that the use of whole foods in
experiments was virtually eliminated. Controlled drug experiments can be done
much more easily with isolated chemical fractions than with complex
substances. The older methods based on observations in a clinical environment
were replaced by experiments (in the reductionist tradition) with chemically
“pure” isolates. The problem is, of course, that chemical isolates are not the
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same as whole food. Researchers no longer seem to know the difference. It’s
hard to compare the effects of synthetic vitamins versus whole food vitamins
when there is an underlying assumption that synthetic vitamins are the same as
whole food vitamins and researchers are not able to use whole food vitamins in
For example, a recent study reported this surprising finding.
Observational studies had shown that people who ate a diet rich in Vitamin E
and C have a lower risk of cancer. To test the validity of this observation, a tenyear
long study was conducted. The study, however, showed that there were no
protective benefits from supplementing the diet with Vitamin E and C.3 There
was no suggestion, however, that the studies might be flawed because they had
used only synthetic forms of both vitamins. It didn’t seem to be worth noticing.
Now that we have seen some of the issues, let’s look at them more
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Synthetic Vitamins vs. Whole Food Vitamins
If you are like many people, you think that vitamins come from food. At
the very least you probably believe that all vitamins are exactly the same as the
vitamins in food. The truth is more complicated than that. To begin with, would
you be surprised to learn that a term like Vitamin C is not a specific term for a
unique structure, but a term that applies to a class of compounds that show
similar activity? Just as there are many different kinds of carbohydrates and
many different kinds of proteins, there are many different versions of Vitamin
C. And the same is true of other vitamins. The differences turn out to be
important. For example, in an early study, Vitamin A from spinach worked
better than Vitamin A from Cod Liver Oil to cure nightblindness.4 How could
that be if all vitamins are the same?
What Are Vitamins?
The term vitamin according to Wikipedia refers to “…an organic
compound required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by an organism. A compound
is called a vitamin when it cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an
organism, and must be obtained from the diet.” Vitamins function to facilitate
metabolic processes such as assisting enzyme reactions.
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In addition, different forms of these organic compounds are appropriate
for different species. So, while some animals can use ascorbic acid as vitamin
C, humans cannot. That begs the question, what happens to all that ascorbic
acid in human vitamin pills? I’ll answer that in the following sections.
Whole Food Vitamins
As stated, vitamins are obtained from food. According to Dr. Robert
Marshall, whole food contains a living energy, a resonance not present in
inorganic substances.5 Vitamins were first observed and studied as a naturally
occurring compound within a food matrix containing all of the cofactors
necessary for the vitamin to perform its functions perfectly. These include
minerals, trace elements, enzymes, co-enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids,
antioxidants and other unknown factors. In this way, nature has assured us of
receiving the full benefits of the vitamins that we ingest.
When a vitamin is separated from its whole food matrix, it cannot
function normally, and the body no longer recognizes it as a vitamin. Instead, it
sees it as a foreign substance that must either be transformed into a vitamin by
providing all of the missing cofactors, or excreted to rid the body of the toxic
substance. If the body is able to provide the necessary cofactors, the vitamin
can then be utilized. However, if the cofactors are not present or if the body is
depleted of its stores through this process, it stands to reason that the result
could be an even more depleted state.
Vitamins, when they are obtained from food, sustain life effectively and
safely. In this form, vitamins are able to assist the body to maintain and repair
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itself. And it is in this way that vitamins have the ability to have a profound
effect on the health of the body. Where these nutrients were not available and
the body has gone into disrepair, a whole vitamin can help the body to heal.
Synthetic vitamins are produced from chemicals in a laboratory. These
chemicals are generally not from food substances, but from substances such as
coal tar or ground up rock. These materials are very inexpensive and
pharmaceutical companies can produce USP vitamins for pennies. However,
the vitamins produced are in no way related to real food vitamins that are
processed by nature into a perfect living whole food. They are, instead, isolated
chemical fractions of a vitamin that cannot function as a real vitamin because
of the missing cofactors and in many cases because they do not have the correct
All molecules have a property called “handedness”. They come in “lefthand”
and “right-hand” varieties. Their chemical formulas are identical, but
they refract light differently. For any given nutrient, our bodies are able to use
either the “left-hand” or the “right-hand” version, but not both. Unfortunately,
large amounts of synthetic vitamins are in the wrong form.
Additionally, while whole food vitamins are recognized and assimilated
into the body, synthetic vitamins are seen as foreign objects.6 They will either
be transformed into a usable but inferior vitamin, or they will be excreted from
the body as quickly as possible. It is for this reason that a large amount of the
synthetic vitamins taken are excreted through the urine very quickly after
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ingestion. According to the Physicians Desk Reference (1996, p.1542), the
amount that is absorbed is only about 10-20% (after going through a
At first, it may seem that a synthetic vitamin is having a positive effect. In
time, however, the person may become even more depleted because they have
used up their supply of cofactors—leaving the body depleted of both the
vitamin and previously stored cofactors. In fact, isolated vitamin fractions act
more like a drug—perhaps able to cover up the symptoms but having no
Synthetic Vitamin Whole Food Vitamin
1. Comes from inorganic source 1. Comes from living source
2. May be wrong variety of the vitamin 2. Correct form
3. May be wrong form of the vitamin 3. Correct form
4. Isolated fraction of a vitamin 4. Whole form with all cofactors
5. Often toxic 5. Non-toxic
6. Acts more like a drug—palliative 6. Facilitates metabolism—curative
7. Can deplete the body of nutrition 7. Does not rob the body of nutrition
8. Cheap to produce 8. More costly
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In this chapter, I will report three instances where the differences between
synthetic vitamins and whole food vitamins have been demonstrated.
1. A study linking Vitamin A supplements (in synthetic form) with birth
defects showed that women who received
• 10,000 iu daily from nutritional supplements had a 240% greater
incidence of birth defects.
• 20,000 iu daily had a 400% increase in birth defects.
No amount of Vitamin A from whole food had any ill effect. Even liver in a
3 oz. serving containing as much as 30,000 i.u. caused no increase in birth
New England Journal of Medicine November 23, 1995.
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2. A study to show that Beta Carotene (synthetic) prevents cancer showed
the opposite. Men taking a synthetic beta-carotene had an 18% higher
incidence of lung cancer, more heart attacks and an 8% higher overall
New England Journal of Medicine April 14, 1994.
Food studies, on the other hand, show the opposite—that food source
vitamins have a protective effect.
3. A study where men were given:
• 500 mg. of ascorbic acid daily
Over an 18 month period, there was a 250% increase in the thickness of the
inner lining of the carotid artery. This thickening directly reflects the
progression of atherosclerosis.
Reported in Reuters Health, March 3, 2000.
Vitamin C from food protects the lining of blood vessels and is a
preventative for atherosclerosis.
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Whole Food Vitamin Supplements
Many health care professionals advise their patients to supplement their
diet with a vitamin and mineral supplement because they are aware that most
Americans do not obtain the necessary nutrients from their food. Here is the
As early as 1936 it was reported to Congress that the mineral content of
North American soil was being eroded to the point that people were suffering
from dangerous dietary deficiencies8. In the past 75 years, the mineral content
of our soil has continued to decline. The Rio Earth Summit Report issued in
1992, documents these declining values on a worldwide basis over the last 100
years. According to their report, North American soils have suffered an 85%
decline in mineral content during this period making it virtually impossible to
receive adequate nutrition from foods grown in these depleted soils.
If we are concerned with achieving optimal health, it is vital to
supplement our diet with whole food nutrients grown in more favorable
conditions. According to Dr. Vic Shayne, “To meet the needs of nutrient
deficiencies as well as the nutrient depleters we face each day, whole food
concentrate supplements may be the best answer.”9
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Sources of Whole Food Vitamin Supplements
Locating good sources of whole food vitamin supplements is much easier
said than done. Because of the almost universal use of synthetic vitamins, it is
rare to find a product that is 100% whole food based. Even those products that
contain whole foods routinely add synthetic vitamins to their formulas. In
addition, most companies add fillers, and flow agents to their products—
substances that are toxic. This is the reason that the Journal of the American
Nutraceutical Association made the following observation.
97% of All Nutritional Supplements Contain Toxic Poisons (JANA 1999)
In addition, according to Richard Drucker, ND “If even one USP vitamin
synthetic substitute is listed, then the entire product is probably not real food.
The best source of vitamins comes from certified organic foods grown in fertile
soil and organic, real-food supplements that contain the proper combination of
nutrients to make vitamins effective.”10
Reading Product Labels
To assure that nutritional products are real-food supplements, it is
important that consumers be able to identify products that contain one or more
synthetic vitamins. If a label does not specify that a vitamin is whole food, it
probably is synthetic. Any of the following terms indicate a synthetic:
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• acetate • hydrochloride
• chloride • succinate
Listed below are some of the ways in which synthetic vitamins appear on
Vitamin A Isolated Chemical Fraction
Vitamin A (palmitate) Synthetic
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine Mononitrate) Synthetic
Vitamins B1 (Thiamine Hydrochloride) Synthetic
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride) Synthetic
Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) Synthetic
Pantothenic Acid (Calcium D-Pantothenate) Synthetic
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) Synthetic
Vitamin C (calcium ascorbate)
Vitamin C (Ester C) Synthetic
Vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol succinate) Synthetic
Vitamin E (dl-alpha tocopherol acetate) Synthetic
In addition, the following ingredients used as fillers, binders and flow
agents are toxic.
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• magnesium stearate (Over 90% of the vitamin/mineral products consumed today
contain magnesium stearate, also known as Stearic Acid) (filler)
• silicon dioxide (flow agent)
• di-calcium phosphate (DCP) (binding agent)
Know Your Manufacturer
Manufacturers have become skilled at creating the illusion of quality by
indicating that vitamins are in a “food matrix”. They list a whole complex of
foods that make it appear as though all of the necessary cofactors are available.
However, the vitamins are still synthetic, and it is not clear that placing
synthetic vitamins in a food base actually improves the quality because
blending two substances together may not be the same as what is created by
nature in a complex process. In fact, it is unlikely to provide the proper “cell
Another strategy utilized by product manufacturers is to indicate that the
vitamin is from a food source such as acerola cherries. This appears to be an
excellent source. However, the vitamin is still an isolated fraction of the whole
complex. While this is better than a synthetic vitamin, it still does not provide
the entire complex supplied by nature.
To be a complete food the whole food needs to be present. Acerola
cherries are a good source of Vitamin C if the entire fruit is used.
In the end, consumers need to know their supplier. Because of the
widespread potential for abuse, it is important to hold nutrition companies
accountable. Quality cannot be accurately displayed on a label since it involves
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much more than the name of an ingredient and the amount contained. It also
involves where the ingredient is grown, how it is handled and stored, and how
knowledgeable the formulator is. Look for companies that clearly indicate that
their products are from whole foods and that are transparent about their
Here are a few questions to keep in mind as you evaluate sources.
1. Does the company demonstrate an understanding of the importance of whole food
vitamins by expressing a commitment to whole food vitamins only?
2. How are the raw materials obtained?
3. What is their quality?
4. What kind of testing do they do on their raw materials to insure quality?
5. How do they handle the raw materials to preserve nutrients?
6. Who is their formulator?
7. Does he/she know how to create a formula in balance with nature?
Whole Food Supplement Companies
I have searched for companies and products that are made from 100%
whole food or living source that do not contain any other form of toxic
ingredients, fillers, or preservatives. In addition, I favor companies that have
proven integrity, demonstrate superior understanding of product formulation
and are transparent about their sourcing and handling of raw materials.
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The following companies meet the guidelines discussed above.
Whole food vitamins are genuine.
To a Long and Healthy Life,
Exsula Super Foods
New Mark (Professional Line)
NutriPlex Formulas (Professional Line)
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1. Murray, Richard P., D.C., P.A. Natural vs. Synthetic Life vs. Death Truth
vs. The Lie. c1995.
2. DeCava, Judith. The Truth About Vitamins and Antioxidants, 2nd ed.,
Selene River Press, Fort Collins, CO, pg. 33. c2006.
3. Physician’s Health Study II. “No Protective Effect on Cancer from Long-
Term Vitamin E or Vitamin C Supplementation”. Reported at:
4. DeCava, Judith. The Truth About Vitamins and Antioxidants, 2nd ed.,
Selene River Press, Fort Collins, CO, c2006 p.18, citing C. Fredericksen,
and Carsten Edmund, “Studies of Hypervitaminosis A: II. A New Method
for Testing the Resorption of Vitamin A from Medicaments,” American
Journal of Diseases in Children, Vol.53, (March 1937). pp.89-109.
5. Marshall, Robert, PhD. “Cellular Resonance”
http://www.qncenter.com/why-quantum/cellular-resonance/ . c2003-
6. Murray, Richard P., D.C., P.A. Natural vs. Synthetic Life vs. Death Truth
vs. The Lie. Appendix A, pp. 1-4. c1995.
7. Murray, Richard P., D.C., P.A. Natural vs. Synthetic Life vs. Death Truth
vs. The Lie. pg. 3. c1995.
8. Senate Document 264, 74th Congress, 2nd Session, 1936.
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9. Shayne, Vic, PhD. Whole Food Nutrition: The Missing Link in Vitamin
Therapy. iUniversity.com, Inc., Lincoln: Nebraska. pg. 16. c2000.
10. Drucker, Richard, ND. “Vitamins Myths and Truths”. To Your Health.
June 2009 (vol. 03, Issue 06. Accessed at:
11. Marshall, Robert, PhD. “Cellular Resonance”
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