Approximately half of Americans take vitamin and mineral formulas to counter the damage caused by their lifestyle and dietary habits. Maybe you’re one of them.
But do you know what’s inside those pills you pop? And are you sure you’re not just throwing away your hard-earned money?
If these ‘vitamin and mineral’ formulas were called ‘chemical’ formulas, would you take them?
Probably not. But as you'll soon discover, that’s exactly what these supplements are: poor replicates of real-food nutrients.
Big Pharma will tell you that the structure of synthetic vitamins and minerals is chemically identical to those found in foods.
What you’re not told is that these supplements are mirror images of the real thing. Since the structure is reversed, these vitamin and mineral formulas don’t function like real-food nutrients. Simply put, the body cannot use these ‘nutrients’ – imagine trying to fit your right hand in a left-handed glove – and has to process them like it would any other toxic chemical .
In fact, many clinical trials indicate that synthetic supplements don’t work as intended. For example, studies make it clear that there is not enough evidence to show that multivitamin and mineral supplements could prevent cancer and other chronic disease [2, 3].
And the worst is, many commercial supplements could even be harmful.
Let’s consider antioxidants. These little ninjas help protect your cells against DNA damage and oxidative stress caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that can increase risks of cancer and chronic diseases. But a review of 68 studies involving over 230,000 participants showed that supplementing with antioxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamins A and E could increase mortality . Synthetic beta-carotene was even associated with a higher incidence of lung cancer in men .
Then there’s the Iowa Women’s Health Study which found that women who took synthetic vitamins were more likely to die sooner than those who didn’t .
Wondering why most supplements are ineffective and potentially harmful? Keep reading to find out.
Hungry? How does a helping of coal tar along with a side of petroleum extract sound? Along with acetylene gas, these are some of the ingredients used to make most synthetic supplements [7-9]. Acids like hydrochloric acid and harsh industrial chemicals such as formaldehyde (a probable human carcinogen) are also used to duplicate the structure of various isolated vitamins.
Example: Beta-carotene is made from benzene (another known carcinogenic agent) extracted from acetylene gas [10, 11]. Methanol can also be used as solvent.
So, is it really a surprise that this fake vitamin could cause cancer instead of preventing it?
The cold hard truth is, human biology has never evolved to adapt to isolated, synthetic nutrients. To effectively absorb and benefit from most nutrients, the body needs enzymes, co-factors, and mineral-activators .
This nutrient synergy occurs naturally in foods but not in supplements because it is not possible to engineer an exact copy of a real-food nutrient. Remember that real foods are very complex, and we still know very little about specific nutrient interactions.
For example, broccoli is rich in beta-carotene and various antioxidants including sulforaphane. Research shows that broccoli (yes, the food) is a lot more effective for cancer protection compared to isolated sulforaphane . This could be another reason why isolated beta-carotene can induce lung cancer . Perhaps beta-carotene needs sulforaphane to exert anti-cancer properties? Perhaps it needs a great deal more!
Some supplement brands boast that they contain more vitamin C than 20 oranges. How could that be a good thing? Would you eat 20 oranges in one sitting?
Did you know that high doses of ascorbic acid (synthetic vitamin C) make your cells more prone to oxidative stress (and can therefore harm your immune system)? 
Or that taking isolated vitamin B6 can deplete other B vitamins and disrupt thyroid function? 
Or that folic acid (the synthetic form of tetrahydrofolate) increases cancer risks because it causes toxicity ? Moreover, if you have an MTHFR gene mutation, your body won’t be able to process folic acid into its metabolically active form - 5-MTHF. This can lead to a build-up of folic acid which can really mess with your mood, focus, and cellular health.
To help bind ingredients together, stabilize products, and make them more attractive and bulkier, manufacturers often add excipients to the supplement.
The issue is that many of these non-nutritive excipients could have adverse health effects:
In short: Shoot your synthetic supplements in the trash – only nutrients derived from real foods can help you attain the health you deserve.
Want to dive a little deeper on the subject? Find out more on the problem with high dose vitamins.
Murray, Richard P. "Natural vs. Synthetic." Health Tlc
Huang, Han-Yao, et al. "The efficacy and safety of multivitamin and mineral supplement use to prevent cancer and chronic disease in adults: a systematic review for a National Institutes of Health state-of-the-science conference." Annals of internal medicine 145.5 (2006): 372-385.
Angelo, Giana, Victoria J. Drake, and Balz Frei. "Efficacy of multivitamin/mineral supplementation to reduce chronic disease risk: a critical review of the evidence from observational studies and randomized controlled trials." Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 55.14 (2015): 1968-1991.
Bjelakovic, Goran, et al. "Mortality in randomized trials of antioxidant supplements for primary and secondary prevention: systematic review and meta-analysis." JAMA 297.8 (2007): 842-857.
Alpha-Tocopherol Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group. "The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers." New England Journal of Medicine 330.15 (1994): 1029-1035.
Mursu, Jaakko, et al. "Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: the Iowa Women's Health Study." Archives of internal medicine 171.18 (2011): 1625-1633.
Budvari S, et al editors. The Merck Index: An encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs, and Biologicals, 12th ed. Merck Research Laboratories, Whitehouse Station (NJ), 1996
DeCava JA. The Real Truth About Vitamins and Antioxidants. A Printery, Centerfield (MA), 1997
Hui JH. Encyclopedia of Food Science and Technology. John Wiley, New York, 1992
Thiel, R. J. "Natural vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones." Medical hypotheses 55.6 (2000): 461-469.
Wingqvist, Annica. "Extraction, Isolation and Purification of β-carotene." (2011).
Jacobs Jr, David R., Myron D. Gross, and Linda C. Tapsell. "Food synergy: an operational concept for understanding nutrition–." The American journal of clinical nutrition 89.5 (2009): 1543S-1548S.
Keck, Anna-Sigrid, Qingyan Qiao, and Elizabeth H. Jeffery. "Food matrix effects on bioactivity of broccoli-derived sulforaphane in liver and colon of F344 rats." Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 51.11 (2003): 3320-3327.
Rietjens, Ivonne MCM, et al. "The pro-oxidant chemistry of the natural antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids and flavonoids." Environmental toxicology and pharmacology 11.3-4 (2002): 321-333.
Czeizel, A. E., et al. "The effect of periconceptional multivitamin-mineral supplementation on vertigo, nausea and vomiting in the first trimester of pregnancy." Archives of gynecology and obstetrics 251.4 (1992): 181-185.
Hirsch, Sandra, et al. "Colon cancer in Chile before and after the start of the flour fortification program with folic acid." European journal of gastroenterology & hepatology 21.4 (2009): 346-349.
Skocaj, Matej, et al. "Titanium dioxide in our everyday life; is it safe? " Radiology and oncology 45.4 (2011): 227-247.
Ballantyne, Sarah. The Paleo Approach: Reverse autoimmune disease and heal your body. Victory Belt Publishing Incorporated, 2013.
The Cornucopia Institute. Carrageenan. New Studies Reinforce Link to Inflammation, Cancer and Diabetes. (2016)