Did we loose our way while shopping for vitamins?

Sometimes, I wonder . . .

Do we sometimes loose site of what really matters? Do we let ourselves get so caught up in marketing hype that we forget to question, to apply basic common sense before falling in step with the crowd?
I wonder about this, for example, when I observe the effect of current marketing efforts on nutritional supplement trends.
For example. We all understand and appreciate the importance of essential vitamins and minerals. We know they cannot be made within our body–that they have to be obtained from foods.
We also understand that it is necessary for foods to be broken down so that these essential nutrients can be made available to the body. We call this digestion. It starts in the mouth, with chewing, and the action of numerous digestive enzymes and pH changes throughout our digestive tract. Different vitamins and minerals are absorbed in different ways. Some are passive and some are active (vitamin B12 and “intrinsic factor, for example). In each case, our body has developed it’s own complex mechanisms to free up the vitamins and minerals from food.
In fact, we have learned over time that there are other measures we can take to enhance the bioavailability of nutrients from food. Cooking, for example, can increase the digestibility of our food. Other techniques, such as fermentation, are effective as well.
In recognition of the importance of freeing up these essential nutrients from their food matrix, we attempt to enhance the digestive process by ingesting exogenous digestive enzymes in supplement form. These supplemental enzymes further assist in the breakdown of food, increasing the availability of proteins, fats and carbohydrate as well as freeing up the micronutrients for enhanced absorption.
Science has revealed the actual identity of many of these essential nutrients–the vitamins and minerals we need so badly. We know their molecular structure. And that’s not all–we can obtain these nutrients in pure form. Isn’t it wonderful? We can now prevent scurvy not only by eating oranges, but also by taking pure vitamin C tablets! We can prevent beriberi, pellagra, rickets, anemia etc by taking pure vitamins as an alternative to various foods.
In fact, studies on certain nutrients have shown that the pure nutrient is sometimes better absorbed than the same nutrient from food. Folic Acid is a well known example of this.
What I wonder about, then, is why we ignore this, and shun supplements that contain pure nutrients? Why do we embrace, instead, supplements that contain vitamins and minerals supposedly bound to food. Why do we take pure, isolated vitamins and minerals that are potent and ready to be used by the body and take a step backwards, mixing them with various food substances?
Perhaps it has something to do with the concept of “natural?’
Natural is good. Synthetic is bad. That is the mantra. The distinction between natural and synthetic, when it comes to vitamins, however, is very blurred. The processes involved in deriving “natural” vitamins, in meaningfully high potencies, seems to me to be little different from those employed in the “synthesis” of many of the same pure vitamins.
In fact, I suggest that perhaps the word “pure” is much more meaningful in this regard than the word “synthetic.” (. . . or “USP.”)
This is not to say that “food” complexed vitamin supplements are not of value. There are many additional co-factors that occur in nature alongside the vitamins and minerals. It makes sense that these co-factors may exert synergistic actions, and have biological activity of their own.
As is usually the case, however, there is a tradeoff. The more room taken up by the food, the less room there is for the actual vitamins and minerals.
So I have to wonder. Why take pure vitamins and minerals and make them less pure? Why take a high potency, highly bioavailable, economically priced vitamin mineral supplement and dilute it with food?
Food is good. And I recommend taking your vitamin/mineral supplements with meals. That way, you get your vitamins and your food.
Don Goldberg


“Folic acid absorption appears to be enhanced by gastric hydrochloric acid.1 However, achlorhydric individuals were found not to have low serum folate levels (even though folic acid absorption was reduced),2 apparently because achlorhydria leads to small-intestinal overgrowth of bacteria that synthesize folate.3
“The bioavailability of folic acid, when administered at usual doses, is close to 100%. At a dose of 5 mg, 93% was absorbed by healthy volunteers,4 and at a dose of 1,000 mg/day at least 10% was absorbed.5 The absorption of poly-glutamate forms of folate (the forms present in food) is less than that of synthetic folic acid,6 perhaps in the range of one-third to one-half.7,8 In developing recommendations for folate intake, the absorption of food-derived folate has been estimated to be half that of folic acid.”

Gaby, Alan R., MD. Nutritional Medicine. Alan R. Gaby, M.D., 01/2011. VitalBook file.
The citation provided is a guideline. Please check each citation for accuracy before use.

About Don Goldberg

Hello. I am what you might call a Nutritional Pharmacist. After college, I worked in the Pharmaceutical and Nutritional Industry, first in Quality Control, and then in Manufacturing and Product Development. Increasingly, as the years passed, I became more involved with nutritional supplements. I spent many years detailing physicians, herbalists, and homeopaths about nutritional and herbal therapies and products. In 1992, along with my friend Arnie Gitomer, I bought Willner Chemists, a well-established nutritionally oriented pharmacy. For the first time, I had an opportunity to communicate directly with the consumer, the patient, and the customer. I love it. This blog is an additional way for me to extend my personal views and opinions directly to you. I also used to be on the radio, every Sunday, from 2 to 4 pm on WOR radio in NY (710 AM). You can listen to, or read excerpts from those shows on our website, www.willner.com.
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