Are “natural” supplements and minerals superior to “synthetic” supplements? We have been lead to believe that natural is always better and that natural compounds work better with our bodies. But let’s examine this concept further to see what we can uncover.
Firstly, extracting pure vitamins and minerals from plants involves significant chemical processing. Secondly, the biological activity of a compound is determined not by its source, but by its chemical structure. In other words, it makes no difference to the body whether the chemical comes from a plant source or from a test tube – the body cannot and does not differentiate – it is the same compound regardless.
Some vitamin and antioxidant compounds can be efficiently synthesized in factories to produce products that are identical in chemical form to those found in nature and that are pure and fully safe. In addition, some synthetic vitamins, such as folic acid are actually better absorbed than the natural variety.
The very reason we have a supplement industry is due to large published studies in medical literature that provides us with knowledge and insight into nutritional elements. Now let’s look at a practical example. There have been hundreds of studies on calcium and vitamin D and bone health. It is hardly in dispute that these nutrients can prevent bone loss. If these traditional forms were not good because they weren't "whole", where did we get all these positive results? If "whole food" supplements are so much better, why are they rarely, if ever, used in any legitimate studies?
If you want the full benefits from the whole food, eat the whole food. "Whole food" supplements are not whole foods. They do not contain water, fiber, calories, and other macronutrients and are highly processed.
What is important is that all the raw ingredients used in supplements are selected for their effectiveness, purity and safety. Your supplements should contain whichever compound – “natural” or “synthetic” that is best absorbed and utilized by the body. Supplements, no matter what their source are just that – supplements. They are not meant to replace but to add to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, good carbohydrates and proteins.
As is always the case, you need to do your own research and not be lead by the hype. Watch out for “whole food supplement” and “natural supplement” claims. Make your supplement choice based on the facts. Knowledge, after all, is power.