Isolated and Synthetic Supplements vs. Whole Food Nutrients

The majority of this article is provided by Dr. Roland Thomas.

Taking vitamin and mineral supplements is generally considered to be a "healthy" addition to our diet. However, in past centuries, people were able to stay healthy without supplements because they generally ate a healthier diet than we do today and their traditional wisdom told them to eat super foods naturally rich in essential vitamins and minerals required for health. They were, therefore, less prone to the degenerative diseases of today (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer) without taking natural or holistic supplements. In the past, foods were grown on small farms in mineral-rich soils. Today, foods are grown in mineral-deficient soils on "factory farms" where the main goal is to produce high quantity rather than high quality food. In addition to this, with the advent of our fast paced lifestyle, fast-food diet and highly processed foods prevalent today, we no longer get the basic nutrition needed to stay well. Modern technology has improved so much that we can now isolate the vitamins and minerals our modern day diet is missing that are required for health. But is this sufficient to promote optimum health and is this an improvement on what our ancestors ate?

More Than Just an Extract or Concentrate

When we extract a vitamin or mineral ( isolated ) from a food (or create it synthetically), how do we know that we have extracted all the components in the food (e.g., enzymes, amino acids, trace minerals) that are needed to make it absorbable in the body? What chemicals might that food contain that we need for health but have not yet discovered? Scientists are now discovering a wealth of phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables that promote health and are different from the vitamins and minerals previously discovered. Research shows that 90% of a fruit's or vegetable's antioxidant power is in the peel or just below the skin. Does your supplement contain the peel, skin and pulp? More importantly, is it safe to take these isolated supplements in a pill rather than as part of the food they naturally occur in? Or could there be side effects from taking them in a way that is not natural to our body?

Side Effects of Supplements from Isolated or Synthetic Sources

Consider this recent research:

  • Early infant multivitamin supplementation is associated with increased risk for food allergy and asthma. (PEDIATRICS, Vol. 114, No. 1, July, 2004, pp. 27-32)
  • There is now strong evidence that antioxidant supplements—vitamins A, C and E and beta carotene—are not effective in protecting against gastrointestinal cancer. On the contrary, there may be a small increase in mortality from these tumors among people taking antioxidants compared with a placebo. (Goran Bjelakovic, professor, internal medicine, University of Nis, Serbia and Montenegro; Eric Jacobs, Ph.D., senior epidemiologist, American Cancer Society, New York City; Oct. 2, 2004, The Lancet)
  • Patients in the Vitamin E group (daily doses of 400 IU) had no significant difference in cancer incidence, cancer deaths, and major cardiovascular events but higher rates of heart failure and hospitalizations for heart failure. (Effects of Long-term Vitamin E Supplementation on Cardiovascular Events and Cancer, March 16, 2005, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2005;293:1338-1347)

This is not the case when nutrients are supplied in whole food form. The naturally occurring compounds in whole foods allow the body to identify the nutrients, thus the body can use what it needs and discard or store any excess of the nutrients.

Research and our holistic experience leads us to the conclusion that nutrition from whole food products is far superior, safer and more holistic than isolated supplements. To support this conclusion let’s look at some old research.

Supplement Discontinued, Symptoms Return

Back in the 18th century, European travelers were crossing the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. They discovered if they drank fresh lime juice they did not get scurvy (a Vitamin C deficiency resulting in weakness and joint pain, internal hemorrhages causing black-and-blue marks to appear on the skin, gums hemorrhaging and becoming weak and spongy, teeth root break down where teeth loosen and eating becomes difficult and painful). It wasn’t until the 20th century that scientists finally isolated the beneficial component in citrus fruits as Vitamin C. What is not commonly known is by taking isolated Vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid one only gets rid of the symptoms of scurvy. When the ascorbic acid is discontinued the symptoms and disease returns. However, if one takes Vitamin C made from an extract of whole green peppers not only do the symptoms disappear but the scurvy is gone when discontinued. Vitamin C in the form of a whole food product contains rutin, bioflavonoids, Vitamin E, selenium and zinc that Nature dictated is needed for Vitamin C to work optimally in our body. All these complementary compounds are present in whole food sources of Vitamin C (e.g., green peppers, oranges, rose hips, acerola cherries). By eating only an isolated supplement with just ascorbic acid or by juicing an orange and throwing away the pulp and peel, one is missing all the above necessary compounds. I have proven this to myself by taking a megadose 2,000 mg Vitamin C tablet and a whole food Vitamin C made from rose hips and acerola cherries (vitamin C=250 mg) to my chiropractor when I had a cold or flu. Through nutritional testing the chiropractor determined the 2,000 mg supplement would help me recovery from the cold or flu but the 250 mg whole food tablet would do just as well or better.

Consider these facts: more expensive Vitamin C supplements are buffered to prevent nausea for those with a sensitive stomach (can’t tolerate ascorbic acid). Nature included the buffer ingredients needed in the pulp and skin of whole food sources of Vitamin C (i.e. the white pulpy part of the orange). So, who is smarter—the scientist that discovered we need to put back the buffer ingredients in Vitamin C supplements or Nature? New research has shown that 90% of the antioxidant power of whole foods is contained in the pulp and peel. So, why do most super nutrient, antioxidant juices on the market today contain only the juice?

If you give an eleven year old a kick ball and tell them to go have fun, they naturally know what to do with the ball and can immediately begin to play. If you give the same child a bicycle in a box, they will have to spend time assembling the tools, reading the instructions and assembling the bicycle before having fun. Such is the case in our body when we take an isolated supplement. When taking just ascorbic acid, the body must now search for other sources (and sometimes robs the body) of rutin, bioflavonoids, Vitamin E, selenium and zinc to make the vitamin C work optimally. When eating oranges, rose hips or acerola cherries, the body absorbs all the whole food nutrients at once and begins the holistic healing process immediately. Whole food nutrients are more efficient and totally holistic, while isolated supplements may be naturally derived but not completely holistic in function.

Some people would counter this by arguing that we need supplements because we are so deficient that foods cannot supply the amounts we need. We would answer by suggesting that people consume superfoods, that is, foods that are naturally extremely high in certain nutrients and 

    Here are some final thoughts from two prestigious sources:

  • To reduce cancer risk, the best advice presently is to consume antioxidants through food sources, rather than supplements. (“Common Questions About Diet and Cancer,” American Cancer Society)
  • “…there are insufficient data to justify an alteration in public health policy from one that emphasizes food and diet to one that emphasizes nutrient supplements. (“Essential Nutrients: Food or Supplements?” Journal of the American Medical Association, 2005;294:351-358)

At WebND All of Our Nutritional Products Are Whole Food Derived!