Post by By Cliff Harvey ND
Natural, bio-identical, synthetic - In the field of supplementation what do all these terms really mean? Do you really know if you are getting the most out of your supplementation regime?
Many people make the assumption that ‘natural’ supplements must be superior, or must be more easily absorbed, digested or metabolised. This is not necessarily true, and in this case it is fair to say that the devil is in the details.
If a vitamin or mineral is the identical form then on a molecular level it is exactly the same, regardless of whether it is synthesised in the lab or extracted from a food. So for example ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is ascorbic acid is ascorbic acid…and so when you see vitamin C in a product you can almost always assume that it has been created in a lab…AND that it is every bit as good as vitamin C found in foods. However what it may not contain is the natural cofactors (like bioflavonoids) that help to more appropriately do its job of reducing oxidative damage in the body. And so often the advantage of extracting vitamins and minerals from natural, whole-food sources is not within any particular vitamin or mineral itself, but instead in the range of co-operating nutrients contained within.
Sometimes though (and this is why the devil is in the details!) what is called Vitamin X is not the same as something else called Vitamin X. A great example of this is with the vitamin Folic Acid. Folic acid is an essential vitamin, and is especially important during pregnancy for reducing neural tube defects in the developing foetus, but also has a range of effects positively improving cardiovascular health and brain function. The problem is that on most supplement labels it is simply listed as ‘Folic Acid’ although there are several chemicals that go by that name, and not all of them perform the same. Almost all folic acid used in supplements is the form ‘Pteroylmonglutamate’. This form differs from the naturally occurring forms of folate that we have in the diet and research indicates that these synthetic folates lead to high amounts of unmetabolised folic acid in the blood stream that interfere and compete with natural folates which can result in:
Several other natural or bio-identical (or the same as naturally occurring in the body) alternatives may offer benefits and you should look for the following in your supplements.
Common Synthetic Supplement
B12 - CyanocobalaminFolic Acid - Pteroylmonoglutamate
Vitamin E – alpha-tocopherol
Preferred Natural or ‘bio-identical’ Form
Vitamin C with natural bioflavonoids
B12 - Methylcobalamin/adenosylcobalamin
Natural Folate – L-5-methyl-THF
Vitamin E – mixed tocopherols (alpha, delta, gamma)