Are Isolated Vitamins Safe? Are They Useful To The Body?
July 3, 2010, Updated June, 2017

Dear Reader,

Below is the answer of long-time nutritional pioneer and recognized medical authority Dr. Jonathan Wright's answer to the statement that one should avoid "synthetic" pure, isolated vitamins because the body doesn't "recognize" them. Please note that the word "synthetic" is misunderstood as being a "bad" thing. As such it is used by marketing people as a way to manipulate consumers' choices when we purchase nutritional supplements. Please read my Whole Foods Magazine article to gain a better understanding of  this issue.  

Over 200,000 Studies Show They Work
An Orwellian statement is promoted by vendors of so-called "whole-food-type" vitamins, who market them as if they are more natural.

Further, the illusion that synthesized isolated vitamin are toxic and not usable by the body is mentioned as if it is so true it's taken for granted. Isolated vitamins are synthesized in laboratories (using natural ingredients) to exactly duplicate the structure of vitamins in food and replicate their activity in the body. Usually the process of synthesize mimics the natural biosynthesis of the vitamin that happens in plants. In the same way that biosynthesized nutrients in plants work in the body, laboratory-synthesized vitamins produce dose-dependent beneficial effects that are confirmed in over 200,000 published studies. These publications are the basis for the "structure-function claim" sections we see in natural food stores.

Further, whole-food-type vitamins are also isolates. A food is broken down by a chemist in a laboratory to yield a single isolated nutrient, such as vitamin C or vitamin B1 (thiamin). When this isolated vitamin is analyzed by sophisticated laboratory equipment it is shown to be the same molecule as a laboratory-synthesized vitamin. The only difference is a higher cost that is required to extract the isolated vitamin from a food.

Potency Determines Effectiveness
The important consideration is that isolated vitamins can be taken in the potencies that have been shown to deliver optimal beneficial effects, where, because of the higher laboratory costs, "whole-food-grown" vitamins are generally only available in low potencies that are shown in published studies to be too low to produce the optimal effects that are possible with vitamin supplements.

Also, please remember, the majority of "whole-food-grown" vitamins are made using the same isolated vitamins the companies that vend them try to dismiss. They are only different in that "whole-food-grown" vitamins are isolated vitamins mixed with food materials in a laboratory process, that also could be described as "synthesis."

The companies claim that mixing the laboratory-created vitamins with foods makes them more natural and more absorbable, but does it? It sounds good, but the few available published studies that have investigated this show no significant differences.

"Whole-food-grown-type" vitamins are not "more natural," yet they cost 8 to 14 times more for the potency that they provide than the isolated vitamins that have been used in over 200,000 published studies.

The newer version of this, which are claimed to be directly derived from organic produce are equally as (in)credible. First to consider, if they truly are taken from plants they must be rendered into isolated nutrients. This also requires laboratory work. And so, these too are the result of chemists stripping the isolated vitamin from the nutrients that normally accompany it in a plant so that it can fulfill the labeling requirement of being "thiamine" or "ascorbic acid."

Update: July, 2017
In reviewing the newest versions of "whole-food" vitamins there are now several brands that claim to derive the nutrients in their formulas directly from organic food, rather than by taking an isolated nutrient and mixing it with foods. One prominant brand produces a "Balanced B-Complex" that lists its vitamin B12 source as "cyanocobalamin in S. cerevisiae." S. cerevisiae is a type of yeast, which does not contain cyanocobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form of vitamin B12, not found in foods, so this makes no sense.

But then this company has historically presented information in this manner.

Another brand's labeling lists the source of the vitamins and minerals as "Organic Food Blend." The potencies of the nutrients are generally very low, so this is credible, but again, the potencies are too low to produce optimal beneficial effects. Taking these dried and tableted organic food-derived products as nutritional supplements is the equivalent of paying over $250 a pound for organic produce, drying it and putting it in tablets to be sold as nutritional supplements.

Save your money. Buy and eat fresh organic produce and take a high-potency multivitamin-multi-mineral supplement, because a majority of even those that are eating an organic whole-food based diet have been found to be experiencing multiple nutritional deficiencies because of the depleted topsoil that dominates United States agriculture.

Michael Mooney
Lifetime Achievement Award
Whole Foods Magazine Interview


Should you avoid synthetic vitamins?

Q: I read an article by another alternative medical doctor who claims that the body only recognizes vitamins made from natural resources. Is that true?

Jonathan Wright, MD.: The body recognizes just about any substance you put into it. The real question is what's best for you.

Ideally, I would tell you to take vitamin supplements and other nutrients concentrated only from natural sources. Vitamins (and minerals) in nature are almost always found in conjunction with other vitamins, minerals, and metabolic co-factors -- vitamin C with a variety of flavonoids, for example. Since there's considerable "unity in nature," if vitamins are found with other nutrients in their natural form, it's very likely that they all work together in your body.

But unfortunately, our world is far from ideal, so, while the naturally concentrated forms of vitamins might be the best option, you shouldn't totally avoid synthetics. In many instances, they're the only sources of the higher doses your body may sometimes need.