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Synthetic Nutrients vs. Natural Nutrients: What You Should Know

Here’s the thing: many people do not get adequate nutrients from diet alone (1).

Currently, at least 50 percent of the United States population takes multivitamins and other synthetic nutrients (2).

But there’s been a lot of debate over the health benefits of synthetic nutrients — whether they provide similar benefits as natural nutrients or not.

Some synthetic nutrients are believed to be dangerous.

This article looks at the science of natural and synthetic nutrients.

Photo By V. Levkina

Overview of synthetic and natural nutrients

Natural nutrients are derived from whole foods. On the other hand, synthetic nutrients are made artificially via an industrial process.

I must mention that synthetic nutrients do not include “whole food supplements” produced from dehydrated, concentrated whole foods.

Most of the supplements sold in the market today are produced artificially. Examples are antioxidants, vitamins, amino acids, and minerals.

Synthetic nutrients can be taken in liquid, powder, tablet, pill, or capsule form. They are formulated to mimic the action of natural nutrients in our bodies.

The best way to know if your supplement is natural or synthetic is by checking the label. Natural supplements may be animal-based or plant-based.

Synthetic supplements usually list nutrients individually or may use chemical names like ascorbic acid.

Photo by Nature Made

The difference between natural and synthetic nutrients

It is widely accepted that synthetic nutrients share a similar chemical identity with nutrients found in raw food.

But it is important to note that synthetic nutrients are produced much differently than plants and animals. So, despite sharing a similar chemical structure, your body may react differently to it.

Also, the absorption process is not well understood regarding the amount absorbed and used in the body. Some nutrients may be more easily absorbed than others (3).

Why is this so?

When you eat whole food, you’re consuming a wide range of nutrients, ranging from minerals to vitamins, enzymes, and co-factors that allow optimal use by the body.

If synthetic nutrients are deficient in these additional compounds, they are unlikely to be used by the body in the same way as the natural nutrients (4).

For instance, a study by Burton et al., published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows that the body absorbs natural vitamin E twice as efficiently as synthetic vitamin E (5).

Natural nutrients in whole foods have immense health benefits

Natural whole foods help manage and prevent diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and early death.

These immense benefits are associated with minerals, vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and fatty acids present in whole foods.

1. Fruits and vegetables

Vegetables and fruits provide the body with vitamins, fiber, plant compounds, and minerals, contributing to many health benefits.

Some observational studies show that high vegetable and fruit intake reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and certain brain disorders (678).

Increased fruit intake helps lower blood sugar, improve blood sugar control, and reduce oxidative stress (910).

A review published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the risk of heart disease was reduced by 4–7 percent for each portion of vegetables or fruits consumed (11).

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

2. Oily fish

Oily fish contains high omega-3 fatty acids, which help improve heart health.

Many observational studies show that regular fish intake reduces the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and death from heart conditions (12131415).

A study involving over 40,000 males between the ages of 40–75 found that regular fish intake by the subjects reduced the risk of heart disease by 15% (16).

Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

3. Nuts and seeds

Seeds and nuts are enriched in minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants. These nutrients are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and early death (2122).

A review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking four servings of nuts per week helped reduce the risk of heart disease by 28% and diabetes by 22% (22).

What about synthetic nutrients?

Well, here’s what I think about synthetic nutrients.

Synthetic nutrients should not be taken regularly to improve your health. If you’re taking synthetic nutrients as part of a detox program, that’s a different ballgame entirely. However, regular intake of synthetic nutrients could trigger some health problems, no thanks to over 98% of vitamins sold being made synthetically.

Here’s the thing:

Synthetic nutrients are never the same as natural nutrients. The fact that they are similar does not make them the same. For example, would you say that artificial flavors are the same as natural ones? No.

Let’s consider a few facts.

1. Multivitamins

Some observational studies have found that multivitamins lower the risk of cancer and heart disease (2425262728).

Other studies did not find any effect (293031323334).

Some studies have linked multivitamin use to high cancer risk (35363738).

A study by Lamas and colleagues published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a high dose of multivitamins had no beneficial effect on heart health (39).

2. Single vitamins and paired vitamins

A review by Fortmann et al. published in the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (40) did not find any clear evidence that single vitamins or paired vitamins were beneficial to heart disease.

But some studies suggest that folic acid may boost brain function (41).

But it is also worth mentioning that some intense studies suggest that dietary supplements, such as B vitamins, do not improve brain function (4243).

Do you know that over 90 percent of the synthetic version of vitamin C comes from China?

Unfortunately, they might not be at the standards you need, especially considering that vitamin C is made from GMO corn with other chemicals or solvents.

Is it necessary taking synthetic vitamins?

There is no substantial evidence to suggest that synthetic nutrients are necessary for already healthy people.

But some groups may benefit from synthetic vitamins and nutrients. These include:

  • The elderly: Their risk of vitamin D deficiency is usually on the high side. They may also need to supplement calcium and vitamin B12 for bone health (4445).
  • Vegetarians and vegans: Some minerals and vitamins can only be obtained from animal products. As such, vegans are often at high risk of deficiency in vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, and zinc (4647).
  • Breastfeeding moms and pregnant women: Their diet may have to be supplemented with extra minerals and vitamins (like vitamin D) (48).
  • Women of childbearing age need folic acid supplements to minimize the risk of neural tube defects if they get pregnant.


Studies have consistently shown that synthetic nutrients cannot completely replace a healthy, balanced diet.

Your best option is to obtain natural nutrients from whole foods.

But, if you’re deficient in a specific nutrient, you will benefit from taking a supplement.

Disclaimer: Dr. Berner does not diagnose, treat, or prevent any medical diseases or conditions; instead, he analyzes and corrects the structure of his patients with Foundational Correction to improve their overall quality of life. He works with their physicians, who regulate their medications. This blog post is not designed to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or services to you or any other individual. The information provided in this post or through linkages to other sites is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, consultation, or the advice of your physician or another healthcare provider. Foundation Chiropractic and Dr. Brett Berner are not liable or responsible for any advice, the course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other information, services, or product you obtain through this article or others.

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