Why I Don’t Take (Synthetic) Vitamins

*Disclaimer: This is a post about my decision not to take synthetic vitamin supplements and how I came to it (this doesn’t apply to high-quality supplements derived from real food and kept in their natural state). What I have learned and what I share are not medical advice. Each person should do their own thorough research and come to their own decision. If in your situation the benefits outweigh the risks, your best choice may be to take certain supplements.*

Don’t miss the other posts in this series:

It’s been conventional medical wisdom that a person ought to be healthy if they “eat right” (meaning following the low-fat, low-cal diet), exercise and take their daily multi-vitamin. The truth is, I’ve known tons of people who are suffering from chronic and/or acute illnesses in spite of these things… or maybe because of them. The exercise is the only good thing on that list.

Why Vitamin Supplements Seem Healthy

What causes people to spend money on vitamin supplements?

  1. Every body else is doing it! It has become such a cultural norm that most people never even think to question the safety and efficacy of their daily multis. Before it was known that cigarettes were damaging to health, many people smoked. It was just how our culture was. Nobody questioned it, but that didn’t mean it was safe and healthy, right?
  2. Doctors expect it: You go in for a check-up (not a good thing, in my book, unless there is an issue) and your doc says, “Are you taking your daily multivitamin?” They are taught in medical school that this is a good question to ask. Did you know that most doctors have little or no training in nutrition??
  3. It’s logical: We can’t eat perfect food all the time, so it makes sense to “fill in the gaps” by taking a multivitamin. It’s like insurance against having big holes in your nutrition.

Why Not to Follow Your Doctor’s Advice

I know many of you are thinking “heretic!” because of that line, but please bear with me. :-) I think the first point is pretty well explained above. Just because everybody else thinks it is a good idea doesn’t mean it is. No jumping off bridges around here! We ask the questions and find real answers!

What about the doctors? Well, the truth is that few doctors have any training in nutrition and those that do get the USDA food pyramid taught to them as an ideal. Real food is something that few of them have even heard of, let alone adopted as their own diet. Many doctors struggle with their own weight and nutrition, so taking nutritional advice from them isn’t the most logical course of action. So, let’s take responsibility for our own health decisions and delve into the real questions…

Can Vitamin Supplements Improve Health?

Yes… and no. Let’s look at a few examples.

Many studies have been done showing that taking large amounts of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) can reduce the duration of a cold (by a measly 10-15%) in most people, under normal circumstances. What about all the other health claims about vitamin C supplements?

“Many uses for vitamin C have been proposed, but few have been found to be beneficial in scientific studies.”

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-c/NS_patient-vitaminc

What about vitamin D supplements? They are all the rage, at the moment, so surely they are well-studied and show huge benefits…

“… the IOM reviewed nearly 1000 scientific studies of vitamin D in relation to not only bone health but also many other health outcomes. It concluded that there is clear evidence that vitamin D has bone benefits but that current research is inconclusive as to whether higher vitamin D intake can cut the risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, or other chronic diseases…”

http://www.vitalstudy.org/guidelines.html

Hmm… nearly 1,000 studies and the best we get is “inconclusive”?? Although I won’t go through each vitamin supplement in this post (more posts to come!), I think you get the idea. Actual scientific evidence of the efficacy of vitamin supplements is “inconclusive” in most cases. The “logic” of relying on supplements to make up for a lack in the diet doesn’t appear to work in real life.

Can Vitamin Supplements *Harm* Health

Now, here is a question that is almost never asked. “So, doc, what are the risks of taking a daily multivitamin?” It just doesn’t happen because they are perceived to be safe. Are they? Not so much.

I’ll be addressing the dangers of taking specific vitamin supplements in future posts, but let’s just take a peek at some of the problems with the idea.

  1. Most supplements are synthetic: Synthetic, when it comes to vitamins, means “man-made”. It means that chemists in a lab mixed, altered, heated and sometimes even irradiated chemicals and substances to try to recreate what God made. Wonder how? Well, for vitamin B-6 (often used by pregnant women to help with morning sickness), they use petroleum ester & hydrochloric acid with formaldehyde. For vitamin D, they use irradiated animal fat/cattle brains or solvently extracted petroleum (source). Does this really sound healthy?? Even “all-natural” and “naturally-derived” ones can be from sources like petroleum, because petroleum occurs naturally. Many vitamins are made from GMOs, too.
  2. Many have been shown in studies to damage health: For example, folic acid (the synthetic version of folate) causes cancer (source). The vitamin E supplements that are so popular also promote cancer, while real vitamin E prevents it (source). What about just taking a “balanced multi”?
    “The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, measured tracked mortality of women over a 19-year period.  Researchers found that women taking vitamin supplements died earlier than those women who did not take anything.”
    (source)
    I will go into the dangers of each supplement in future posts, but I think you get the idea.
  3. Nutrient balance is endangered: When a person supplements with isolated vitamins, they always run the risk of causing an imbalance. No matter how careful a person is to prevent it, the truth is that scientists just don’t know enough about how vitamins work together to be able to say what an “ideal” balance is for them. Beyond that, each person’s body is different and may need a different balance. We’ve already seen imbalances in minerals, such as too much calcium and not enough magnesium. Women have been taking massive amounts of calcium, according to their doctors’ orders, in an attempt to prevent osteoporosis. What happened was a horrible imbalance that left them with magnesium deficiencies. Could that be happening with isolated vitamins we are taking?

This is a quick and cursory overview of what I have learned, but I am looking forward to delving into each vitamin in future posts. We will learn about the supplement options and ways to find natural sources. Here are the ones we’ve already looked at:

Were you surprised by any of this information?

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38 comments to Why I Don’t Take (Synthetic) Vitamins

  • No, not really. But, I have been taking a few things my midwife recommends.

    • My midwife had me taking a few things (most of which didn’t stay down), so I’m trying to find the best possible sources of those things for next time, should we get pregnant again. Magnesium lotion is at the top of my list, which is why I’ve been perfecting the recipe! ;-)

  • Dusti

    I agree with your reasoning. Do you think that naturopaths are recommending vitamins for the same reason as conventional doctors? What about the whole food supplements like New Chapter or a similar brand? Do you apply the same principles to specific supplements like fish oil? What about using vitamins to treat imbalances in the body? (I’m thinking about a lanolin derived form of Vitamin D from a good source that would be used to battle seasonal depression.) Just a few thoughts.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dusti!

      I think that many of the more naturally-minded doctors have still had the “benefits” of synthetic vitamins beaten into their heads just like the rest of us. It takes some kind of “ah-ha” moment to get any of us to question something like that when it’s been so deeply ingrained. They mean well, but most of them have never even considered that it might not be the best option. :-)

      Although I do not take *synthetic* vitamins, I do take some natural supplements. We have had great health benefits from fermented cod liver oil/high-vitamin butter oil, which is full of real vitamin D. I use specific foods and herbs to boost our vitamin C levels, when needed and we eat a very nutrient-dense diet to make sure we’re getting vitamins from the real sources. For minerals, we use bone-broth and I use a topical magnesium lotion, since almost all of us have very low magnesium levels.

  • Morgan

    This is interesting and I look forward to your next posts about it. I am having trouble getting enough b vitamins in my diet so I have been supplementing and I feel sooooo much better. I hope in the next posts you can give us some alternatives to supplementing. Thank you!

    • Thanks for commenting, Morgan!

      B vitamins are something that I’ve been researching quite a bit. I’ll be sure to keep them high on my list when I schedule my posts for the series. :-)

  • Chris Wheeler

    I, too, am very interested in the B vitamins. I took a synthetic version for some years and they did seem to help. However, I believe using them helped create the acid reflux I now have to deal with. Also, since we take Vitamin D supplements at our house, could you tell us where you get the butter oil? Thanks for the post. I’m looking forward to reading more about this subject.

    • We use the Green Pastures FCLO and butter oil. You can find it on Amazon, but I am still trying to figure out the cheapest way to get it. :-) Thanks so much for the comment!

  • There’s a lot of good information to work with, here! We usually stick with cod liver oil, and have been doing D3 drops, but after reading this, I’m not sure if we should continue with that. I look forward to reading more!

    • We do the fermented cod liver oil and get as much sunshine as we can to make sure we are getting enough vitamin D. I’ll go more in depth about vitamin D in it’s own post, though. Thanks so much for the comment, Kristen!

  • I never take multi-vitamins. My primary reason is that, I don’t want my body or health to be dependent on them. What if I temporarily lose my source of income, and I have no money to buy them? That would mean that there’s a possibility that my health would decline because I can’t take them anymore. As much as possible, I tried to eat a balanced diet and consume whole foods.

    • That is a fantastic point that I never thought of, Agnes. Thanks so much for sharing it with us! :-)

    • But couldn’t you make the same argument for any healthy practice? If you sleep 8 hours a night for years, but then you lose your good job and have to work two low-paying jobs to stay afloat and are only able to sleep 5 hours a night, your health might decline. That doesn’t mean your body “became dependent” on adequate sleep as if it were an addiction. It means that getting enough sleep was good for you. It would be stupid to avoid sleeping now just in case you’re not able to do it in the future. In fact, the healthy body you build while you can afford to do so is likely to be a help, rather than a hindrance, in hard times.

      A better argument against nutritional supplements is that they allow you to go on eating an inadequate diet, and it really is better for you to just eat a good diet. But if you lose income, you may not be able to afford your good diet–that’s not a reason to quit eating it now!

      I do take some supplements, but I am always working on my diet trying to make supplements unnecessary, and I avoid buying supplements with unnecessary stuff in them. Like food dye–who cares what color a pill is?!

      • You have a point there, Becca. But, I based my assumption on what happened to people around me who are taking that stuff regularly. They make sure they don’t miss taking their multivitamins because they fear they’ll get sick if they’ll do. Though I’m not an expert in medicine, at the back of my head, I’m always doubtful if what those pharmaceuticals claimed about their multivitamins are true. If I have doubt on something, then I would never risk my health just because most people around me are using it.

        FYI, I’m now 28 years old and have never been admitted or confined to a hospital. My sister, who is a regular multivitamin user, has been in and out of the hospital all her life. She’s not sickly, she’s even athletic but between the two of us, she’s the one who often got sick.

      • When it comes to man-made synthetic vitamins (not all supplements are bad!) I think that it’s entirely possible that the body can become used to a crutch. Consider the man-made meds (blood pressure meds, asthma inhalers, antihistamines, blood thinners, etc.) that can cause a severe rebound effect when they are suddenly stopped. To my knowledge, there haven’t been any studies on the possible chemical dependance that synthetic vitamins might cause.

        When it comes to things that God intended for us to have, such as real food, herbs (I stick to non-toxic ones :-) ), exercise and sleep, I consider those to be health-building. When I see so many studies showing that synthetic vitamins not only fail to protect health in most situations and even have been shown to damage health, they just don’t even fall into the same category as these other things, for me.

        Just to make sure I have been clear, I don’t think all supplements are bad or should be avoided. I am only referring to synthetic vitamins in this post. There are a few supplements that I absolutely love and I will share about those in another post. :-)

  • I was surprised to see that many multi-vitamins contain carrageenan (with carries with it a risk of cancer). So, we take vitamins to decrease our risk of getting sick and in the vitamin pill itself is a compound that is associated with increasing cancer risk. Not cool at all. =(

    • So true! I didn’t even get into the dangers of most of the additives, since most of the synthetic vitamins cause or are associated with increased risk of cancer. Thanks so much for pointing that out, Alina Joy!! :-)

  • Nice to see someone else thinks the same way I do. I have been looking at various herbs for vitamins, stinging nettle is one of the most jammed packed herb out there. Have you looked into herbs for a more natural use of getting your vitamins and minerals? Also hemp oil is a great replacement for fish oil. Followed you here from Living Natural Link Up, following.

    • So glad to have you here, Joyce! Yes, I used nettle in my pregnancy tea blend, because it is so packed full of nutrients! I also regularly use red raspberry leaf and supplement it with herbs specific to my needs at the time. As I go through different vitamins I will be sharing my favorite ways to get plenty of them through foods and herbs. :-)

      Thanks so much for commenting!!

  • Lizzy

    I found this article very interesting. My mom just passed away, she had pancreatic cancer and when the drs found out it was stage 4. she was 71, always a very healthy woman, not even a headache, ever. No pills, all natural food, cooked by her, no fast food, no procesed food, just one thing: Her Centrum multivitamins. Everyday, for years, she took the pill and when she was running out of them she will call me: Please, stop at the pharmacy and bring me some vitamins. I wonder, maybe, just maybe, this is what caused the cancer?

    • I am so, so sorry to hear about your mom, Lizzy! It’s impossible to say what the cause was. It might have been the multis, but it also might have been something in her drinking water or another environmental factor. Whatever caused it, I’m very sorry for your loss and I’ll pray for you. *hugs*

    • Possible…but there is sooo much involved in cancer. Adrenal burnout is one of them. And toxins – heavy metals and the like. or fluoride in water. Really, way too much. But I am so sorry for your loss. Strange how some folks smoke and eat Doritos and live ’til they’re 90 and others take care of themselves and die earlier.

  • I agree synthetic vitamins are HORRIBLE for the health, BUT, I think real, whole food based vitamins or rotating daily herbal infusions of nettle, red raspberry leaf, oat straw and red clover is important to most peoples health. Even when we do eat real whole foods there are gaps in the nutritional puzzle, especially for those of us with gut health and malabsorbtion issues. I think we need to be smart about where our supplements come from. What they are made from, how they are processed and how we feel when we take them. When I switched to a whole food multi vitamin I felt SO GOOD! Where before I was just meh about the whole vitamin thing. SO I think they do have a place… as long as they come from real whole foods and herbs that our body knows how to process and get the nutrients from it.

    • Yes, I am only referring to synthetic supplements in my post (or “natural” ones that have been so drastically altered that they no longer resemble the natural source). I frequently use real food and herbs for meeting specific nutritional needs. There are some fantastic natural (real food/herbal) supplements that I will be talking about in posts on specific vitamins. When nutrients are consumed from natural sources, they stay in balance and are absorbed and processed by the body. During my second pregnancy I couldn’t keep the prenatal vitamin down, but I could drink my pregnancy tea all day long and get wonderful nutrients from it! Even if we were all able to eat a “perfect” diet, I agree that there would still be nutritional gaps for each of us. My goal has been to find ways to fill those gaps using food, herbs and truly natural supplements, rather than synthetics. I’d love to know which whole foods multi you’re using! Thanks so much for the comment, Amanda! :-)

      • For us pregnant and breastfeeding moms I LOVE Garden of Life Prenatal vitamins. I felt such a difference immediately. LOVE THEM. doTERRA makes a great whole food multi too but Im not a fan for pregnancy/bfing because it has too much vitamin A for pregnancy (per my midwife) so you would take a lower dose and it contains peppermint which can reduce breast milk supply. My husband takes them and he feels amazing when he takes them, but again, Im not a fan for pregnancy/bfing. I really love Garden of Life, the company is very ethical, high quality, and you can find them anywhere.

  • very interesting. I do take a whole foods vitamin as well as garlic and FCLO. I am not happy about the floic acid/cancer link… since all women are told to take it before and during pregancies..

    Thanks for sharing with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday! Hope you join us again today! http://likemamalikedaughter.blogspot.com/2013/03/flip-trainer-review-at-eco-kids-tuesday.html

    • Whole foods vitamins, garlic and FCLO are completely different animals from the “vitamins” that most people get. I love my FCLO and I frequently take garlic (mashed and mixed with honey and cayenne) when we’re sick. I also have a few special things I take regularly that I’ll be sharing, specific to each vitamin! There are even some pretty easy solutions for getting plenty of folate during pregnancy without that nasty synthetic folic acid!! :-)

      Thanks so much for the comment, Hannah! I just link-up my warm milk recipe, which I think will be a big hit in most households. :-)

  • I switched to whole foods vitamins just out of necessity because I always became nauseated after taking any kind of vitamin – full stomach or not. While I was pregnant, they wouldn’t even stay down! My MW got me some whole source prenatals and I was *stunned* that I didn’t have the slightest tummy ache after taking them. It made a believer out of me for sure!

    • It really does make a difference where they come from, doesn’t it?! When I use different real foods supplements I always feel better. When I was taking the synthetic ones, I always felt horrible. Our bodies know what’s healthy and what isn’t. :-)

      Thanks so much for the comment, Jaime!

  • Interesting – something I’ve been wondering about. Isn’t the folic acid article stating that ODing on it is the problem, however…not that folic acid itself causes cancer.

    Kind of the same w/ the vitamin E study. They said “high doses”. I am not trying to say what you are saying isn’t true. I am honestly trying to sort all of this out. I am on a nutrient program that is supplementing w/ synthetics (it’s for adrenal issues) and I am so much better. But I have been wondering about this for awhile.

    So please don’t take my comment as accusatory–rather, I am trying to figure all of this out. Thanks, Justyn!

    • I know exactly what you mean, Adrienne, and I’m not offended at all. :-)

      For each of the vitamins that people commonly take synthetic versions, I’m going to be doing a post that will go much, much more in depth about what I’ve learned and give all the citations for the studies, statistics, etc. in each of those posts. For this one, I just wanted to do more of a glimpse, rather than get bogged down with trying to cover everything all at once.

      Great question! :-)

  • Reena

    Hi Justyn,
    I somehow wondered to your blog through Jenni Mullinix’ s blog while reading some Christianiaty related posts.

    After reading your article and the comments, I now understand why I am unable to digest vitamins. They make me feel sick and nauseous. All this while, I thought it’s just me. Apparently not.

    I would love to hear read more on alternatives to the specific vitamins I.e folate, vit C etc.

    Thank you and I am glad to have come across your blog.

    Reena

    • Hi Reena,

      Synthetic vitamins have always made me feel nauseated, too. You’re not the only one! I just did two posts on folate: part one and part two. I *think* I will tackle vitamin C next, but it’s not set in stone. :-)

      Thanks so much for commenting!!

  • I do not take them , they make me hungry and I end up eating and gaining weight , so I eat right and drink my milk. Vitamins make me feel like I’m going to throw up. I do take biotin it doesn’t make me hungry and I take garlic pills , but the multi one I can’t tolerate.

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