Updated 01 September 2014

What are your supplements made of?

Before you reach for your supplements, bear in mind that not all multivitamins are derived from natural nutritive sources like plants, fruits and vegetables.


There is no doubt that you should be taking your multi-vitamins each day. Due to the decreasing quality of our soils and the increasing amount of pollutants, we are eating plenty but we are still starving and multivitamin supplements can be a great way to get the extra vitamins and minerals that are lacking in everyday foods.

The good news is that given proper natural nutrition, the human body has an amazing ability to heal itself.

However before you reach for your supplements, bear in mind that not all multivitamins are derived from natural nutritive sources like plants, fruits and vegetables. Many are synthetically-derived, laboratory simulations of real vitamins, including some common ones like vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and vitamin E (dl-tocopheryl acetate). These are the same types of “vitamins” used to enrich many processed foods, and they simply do not assimilate well into the body because they are not truly natural.

Read: Are vitamin supplements fatal?

Real vitamins are the living ones derived from whole foods and that are maintained in their natural states. These contain the necessary cofactors and enzymes which help the body to process and use them, and they provide the most benefit to the body.

Although there are many opinions on the types of food we should be eating, and the ideal ratio of these foods, everyone from all corners of the diet and nutrition world seems to agree on one thing: No matter which foods we choose and in what ratios we eat them, whole foods are better for you than refined foods.

This fact has never really been argued. Everyone agrees raw honey is better for you than white sugar or that brown rice is better for you than white rice. Why should it be any different for vitamins?

Just like refined foods, refined vitamins have been robbed of all of the extra accessory nutrients that they naturally come with as well. In turn, like refined foods, they can create numerous problems and imbalances in your body if taken at high levels for long periods of time.

Whole food supplements on the other hand are what their name suggests: Supplements made from concentrated whole foods. The vitamins found within these supplements are not isolated. They are highly complex structures that combine a variety of enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, activators and many other unknown or undiscovered factors all working together synergistically, to enable this vitamin complex to do its job in your body.

Nutrients from within this complex cannot be taken apart or isolated from the whole, and then be expected to do the same job in the body as the whole complex is designed to do.

Complex machine

The perfect example of this difference can be seen in an automobile. An automobile is a wonderfully designed complex machine that needs all of its parts to be present and in place to function properly. Wheels are certainly an important part of the whole, but you could never isolate them from the rest of the car, call them a car or expect them to function like a car. They need the engine, body and everything else.

Nature does not produce any nutrient in an isolated form. The nutrients in foods are blended together in a specific way and work best in that format. For an isolated nutrient to work properly in the body, it needs all the other parts that are naturally present in the food too. If the parts are not all there from the start, they are taken from the body’s stored supply.

This is why isolated nutrients often work for a little while, and then seem to stop working. Once your body’s store of the extra nutrients is used up, the isolated nutrient you’re taking doesn’t work as well anymore. Worse yet, a deficiency in these extra nutrients can be created in your body. And, because most nutrients are isolated from the foods they come in - using a wide array of potentially nasty solvents and other chemicals - taking high amounts of these products can also expose you to these potentially toxic chemicals, if care is not taken to remove them.

It is ironic than in trying to combat the burden we are already facing from the high number of chemicals in our environment, we could be adding more.

Supplement makers typically try to stuff as much as possible in a capsule, telling us that the more we take, the better it is for us. This is simply not the case. As you now know, it is not necessarily the amount of a nutrient you ingest that is important, but its form and how much is bioavailable that counts the most. In fact, remembering that ingesting single nutrients can actually create imbalances in the body, logic would dictate the higher the level of a single nutrient that you take in, the quicker this imbalance will occur.

What all of this means: The potency of a supplement has much more to do with synergy than with actual nutrient levels. It is a combined effect of all the parts of the food, rather than the chemical effect of a single part, that is most important.

So how do you tell whether or not a supplement you’re looking at is a good choice? For starters, make sure it has the following characteristics:

  • It is as close as possible to its natural form.
  • The utmost care has been taken in all phases of its production, from growing its ingredients, to manufacturing, testing for potency and quality control.

Read more:

Do I really need supplements?
Is organic food better?
5 nutrients you need right now

Any questions?

Ask the Natural Health expert or Health24's nutrition expert, DietDoc.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Exercise benefits for seniors »

Working out in the concrete jungle Even a little exercise may help prevent dementia Here’s an unexpected way to boost your memory: running

Seniors who exercise recover more quickly from injury or illness

When sedentary older adults got into an exercise routine, it curbed their risk of suffering a disabling injury or illness and helped them recover if anything did happen to them.