What's Really in Your Vitamins?

All supplements are NOT the same. Despite what is depicted in clever marketing strategies, most of the nutritional supplements on the market do not provide much, if any, nutrition at all. The use of the terms "natural" or "organic" on the labels can be quite misleading to an uninformed consumer.  The whole purpose of nutritional supplementation is to replace nutrition that is lacking in today's lifestyle and diet choices, yet few companies produce true food supplements. Our goal is to shed some light on the confusion about the various sources of vitamin supplementation. 

In nature, vitamins are found in complexes, which are groups of chemically related compounds.  Imagine a vitamin complex is like a cluster of grapes.  Within this cluster, there is a single grape that scientists identify as the "organic nutrient".  The organic nutrient is often thought, incorrectly, to be the true workhorse or essence of the vitamin, which leads to the FALSE belief that there is no difference between the natural and synthetic form of any one vitamin.  This is not the case at all!  This conclusion does not take into consideration all of the enzymes, precursors, co-enzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, activators and other naturally occurring micronutrients (i.e. the remaining cluster of grapes) that are attached to this "organic nutrient" while in its natural form. In fact, without these naturally occurring micronutrients, the isolated "organic nutrient" is UNUSABLE by the body and thus has no beneficial effect.  All of these micronutrients work together to optimize each other’s inherent action within the body!   In essence you need all parts working together to impact health in positive way. As an example of this principal of wholeness, if you leave out any part of the watch and you can't keep time.

There are only about twenty nutrients that modern science can reproduce in a laboratory to combine into a synthetic vitamin product.  The problem with this product is that generally we are not lacking one isolated nutrient when we have a deficiency.  For example, even if we determine a vitamin C deficiency is present, logically we would have to conclude that there is also a deficiency of the many co-factors or micronutrients.  These co-factors and micronutrients cannot be reproduced in a laboratory so how then could you expect to correct the deficiency without supplementing the full complement of nutrients?  Some nutrients and co-factors may be more important in the picture of health than others, but referring to the watch example, which part can be sacrificed and still keep correct time?  Returning to an optimum level of health should be the motivation behind taking vitamins, not just the lack of symptoms.

Classification of Vitamins

Whole Food Vitamins

As this name implies, this is a supplement of food taken directly from a food source.  Nothing is added or extracted that would change the bioavailability of the vitamins and the corresponding co-factors and micronutrients.  Basically, all that is removed from the food is moisture and fiber at a temperature that leaves important enzymes active.  The organic nutrient, along with all of the many co-factors and micronutrients, are present and are utilized in the body as nature intended.  Essentially, the body recognizes the full cluster of grapes and utilizes each and every part.  Physiologically, the body will use and store what it can, and passively eliminate the excess without negatively impacting the body.

Synthetic Vitamins

Synthetic is truly the nature of this type of vitamin.  The isolated nutrient is synthesized in the laboratory primarily from corn sugar and non-food compounds such as coal tar.  These synthetic products contain only the organic nutrients, but absolutely NONE of the co-factors and micronutrients vital for the body to be able to use the vitamin.  Physiologically, a synthetic vitamin organic nutrient must go through a process of reconjugation in the liver to complete the vitamin complex to have any effect, thereby causing liver stress.  This is not useful in healthy pets, much less pets with liver conditions of any type.  Suppose then that the body is required to provide these missing micronutrients from its own reserves for this process.  Remember, the body is already deficient, which is why the vitamins are needed in the first place.  So, where would it find these missing components?

In order for a vitamin to take part in a chemical reaction within the body it must have the correct spin to match attachment sites with other components in the reaction.  At an atomic level:

  • A whole food vitamin has a "right-handed" spin.
  • A synthetic vitamin has a mirror image "left-handed" spin. 

If the spin is not correct in a vitamin molecule then it cannot participate in the normal chemical reactions any more than a left hand could fit into a right-handed glove.  Simply put, the body cannot metabolize it.  With the correct spin, the whole food vitamin is easily assimilated, metabolized, and passively eliminated via the kidneys.  In contrast, a synthetic vitamin creates abnormal reactions within the body; and it must be actively transported and eliminated from the kidneys, causing additional kidney stress.

Finally, most of the synthetic vitamins sold in the USA are actually produced in China and preserved with ethoxoquin.  Ethoxyquin is a controversial quinolone-based antioxidant used as a pet food preservative and a pesticide.  As it stands, approximately 90% of vitamin C is made in China, in addition to synthetic vitamins A, B12 & E.  Vitamin C is one of the most popular vitamins with consumers when they are sick or trying to avoid getting sick.  With flu season approaching, the sales of synthetic vitamin C will skyrocket and consequently, Americans consumption of hidden ethoxyquin will increase along with it.   In the pet food world, many “natural” companies use synthetic Vitamin C to preserve in place of exthoxyquin.  Unfortunately, it remains a hidden source of the contentious additive.

Fractionated (Crystalline) Vitamins

Though this product has food as its original source (so is therefore not synthetic), it has been distilled, diluted and crystallined to such a degree that virtually all of the co-factors present in the original food are processed out or eliminated, leaving you with the isolated "organic nutrient".  These products are often labeled as natural, which is truthful in the respect that they did originate from a food source, but you are still left with an essentially isolated compound.  Physiologically, these fractionated vitamins behave similarly to synthetic vitamins.  Sadly, these labels are the most complicated to interpret.

Labeling Misconceptions

A common marketing practice is to use "natural" or "organic" on the label of the fractionated and synthesized form of vitamin supplements, implying that they are food-source products when they are not.  This is legal because the FDA considers the word natural as "anything coming from nature" - including chemicals - since they do ultimately come from nature.  In labeling supplements, the word "organic" is interpreted as anything that contains a carbon molecule, rather than an organically grown or chemical-free product.  For whole food vitamins, the actual food source from which the product originates is listed on the label.   Most often, a whole food company that understands the benefit of true food-source supplements will proudly list the food sources on the label in order to market to an informed consumer.  Unfortunately, the label of a fractionated or synthetic product is not a reliable resource for the origin of what it contains.

An informed consumer should also be aware that most whole food supplements are not labeled with the milligram amounts of each individual vitamin due to the fact that a true food supplement contains thousands of vitamins and co-factors.  A synthesized vitamin may list a very high milligram level, have a lower price, and an almost indefinite shelf life, but consumers are paying for stimulatory chemicals that promote further deficiency, rather than nutrition.

Conclusion

There are thousands of nutritional supplements on the market today with countless more being released on a yearly basis.  Unfortunately, the appeal of the label is often the only guiding mechanism in purchase.  Label deciphering has become an art form and knowledge is power in today’s market.   The most important tenet in product evaluation is “Follow Mother Nature”.   Mother Nature has helped this world go around long before man began to interfere.  Look to fresh, wholesome foods to provide the appropriate nutrients in the optimal form for the body to use.   When our deficient diets cannot provide the necessary nutrients, vitamin supplements should:

  • Occur in complex form to optimize utilization and minimize reaction.
  • Increase vitality, rather than depleting it.
  • Be in a form that nature intended.

Mother Nature ain’t no dummy. She has given us what we need in a form our bodies can access. Whole food vitamins supply the nutrients and micronutrients that are vital to optimal function. These vitamins are used as needed by the body, stored when possible and passively eliminated if necessary.  Conversely, synthetic and fractionated vitamins stress the liver and kidneys; and create more deficiency than if no vitamins were taken at all. Choose wisely.


The information provided at this site has not been evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration and is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, or prescription for any diseases.

Vitality Pet Care and Dr Pam (Montgomery-Fittz) has been a true life saver for our beloved Welsh terrier, Zoe.  After treating Zoe for over four years, our internal medicine vet told us the last of hope of getting her off destructive steroids was to start with Dr Pam.  Although the office is 45 minutes from home, we made the change in January of 2014.  By August of 2014 Zoe was off steroids and has regained health and vitality that we thought was gone forever.  Her hair had all turned grey, now she is black and brown and so energetic she’s like a puppy.  Although the diet therapy is expensive and requires us to prepare fresh vegetables it is well worth it.  We are so glad we took the advice to see Dr Pam.  She is an amazingly talented, caring and super-specialized vet whom we highly recommend.

- Barbara & Harvey G.