Quality survey Health benefits Safety Reading labels Ask the supplier Standards & regulations


Testing news
Ask the expert
Contact us
Privacy policy

Ask the Expert

Natural versus synthetic vitamins

Many of today's vitamin and mineral supplements are made synthetically through chemical processes, rather than derived directly from plants or other materials. Some manufacturers do make supplements directly from natural sources, and claim that these vitamins are superior in quality to their synthetic cousins.

Are natural vitamins better than synthetic ones?

The distinction between "synthetic" and "natural" vitamins can be confusing. A better question is whether the resulting molecular structure is the same as the corresponding structure found in nature.

When the synthetic molecule is identical to the form derived from natural sources, both forms will be indistinguishable from each other in all aspects -- including their function and effects in the human body.

In addition, the same natural vitamin derived from different natural sources or raw materials will be the same (provided that no other substances unique to that particular source are included).

Vitamin C

For example, vitamin C found and isolated from oranges is identical to vitamin C derived from other plant sources, largely because plants containing vitamin C biosynthesize the substance in the same manner.

Vitamin E

On the other hand, the d- form of vitamin E derived from vegetable oils and other natural sources is different from the dl- form (which is often called the synthetic form). The dl- tocopherols are actually a mixture: the d-form and the l-form (usually a 1:1 mixture). The human body uses only the d- form. The l- form, when present, does not confer any known health benefit and is normally excreted by the body. So, in essence, when consuming the dl- form of vitamin E, you obtain an effective dose of about half the vitamin E dosage reported on the label.

Other nutrients

Aside from this precaution, most synthetically made vitamins and many other nutrients are either identical to their "wild-type" counterparts (extracted from natural sources), or easily convert to the wild-type in the human body. Also, most synthetic vitamins and nutrients are both cheaper and purer, with less potential for contamination.

Quality in vitamins and nutrients is extremely hard to quantify. One should not rely on claims of "better quality" unless some definition of that term is given, together with some measurement data.

The list of ingredients and their amounts is the most important aspect of comparative analysis. If that list is approximately equivalent, then price should be your guide, unless you are given some clear and objective information about why the "natural" one is better.


Sources: Ed Fry & Paul Wakfer (was Tom Matthews) & Louis Scarmoutzos




Meet our quality advisory panel.

Who is the editor@ supplementquality.com?

See other Q&As:

General quality issues

Judging quality

Getting enough vitamins

Selecting vitamins

Natural vs. synthetic vitamins

Storing supplements

Do my pills dissolve?



Talc as ingredient

Specific supplements


Chelated minerals

Folic acid, B6, B12, L-arginine

False positive for methamphetamine on drug test of ephedra users

Muscle & weight gain

Muscle and weight gain

Muscle building for women


Weight loss

Weight loss

Health benefits Safety Reading labels Ask the supplier Standards & regulations Contact us

(c) Copyright 1999-2003 Dietary Supplement Quality Initiative. For permission to reprint, please contact our editor.