From the day you could walk and talk, your parents probably instilled the value of daily vitamins. Likely you were introduced to the Flintstones-shaped or gummy variety first; today your pills are a bit more sophisticated, perhaps even bigger.

However you swallow it, vitamins provide a valuable source of nutrients. Sure, you may know the ABCs of your daily intake, but do you know if you’re downing synthetic vitamins?

Read on to learn the science behind synthetic vitamins and what they mean for your health.

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Understanding the Difference: Natural vs. Synthetic Vitamins

When it comes to natural vitamins, you’ll often find them advertised as “plant based” or “all-natural.” In opposition, synthetic vitamins are generally man-made and contain a combination of ingredients, both plant-based and chemically blended.

More often than not, most of the vitamins on drug store shelves contain at least some synthetic ingredients. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad or unhealthy. In fact, depending on the intended treatment, some synthetic vitamins actually absorb better than their all-natural counterparts. For example, Web MD notes, “Synthetic vitamin B12, found in dietary supplements and in fortified foods, is easier to absorb and does not require the acid from your body.”

In addition to vitamin compounds, scientists can regularly use other artificial ingredients along with synthetic vitamins to help increase health benefits and adsorption.

Getting Nutrients From Food vs. Synthetic Sources

Vitamins are designed as supplements, and that’s exactly how they work: They won’t completely fix a poor diet, but they will enhance it. According to Mayo Clinic, “Supplements aren’t intended to be a food substitute because they can’t replicate all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. So depending on your situation and your eating habits, dietary supplements may not be worth the expense.”

Conversely, know that whole foods don’t always provide complete nutrition either. From farm to table, fruits and vegetables spend days in transit; therefore, so-called “fresh” foods lose potency every day away from the tree or vine. Synthetic vitamins, however, remain affective for months or sometimes years after purchase. When taken correctly, synthetic vitamins can make up for the nutrients that many modern foods lack.

How Synthetic Vitamins Work

Doctors and nursing leaders recommend daily multi-vitamins for healthy adults and children, as well as those who must support existing health issues. Synthetic vitamins are intended to work – and do – in the same way as natural and whole food nutrients. Depending on the type of synthetic vitamin, it may need to be administered differently. Most vitamins, however, regardless of the synthesis, are absorbed gastro-intestinally or through lining of the intestines. Therefore, it’s important to take any vitamin with water and meal to facilitate the process.

It’s important to note that it’s possible to get too much of a good thing. Some vitamins – such as vitamin C – are water soluble, and the likelihood of overdose is generally rare since the nutrient is easily broken down by the body. However, other supplements (iron, for example) take longer for your body to breakdown; therefore it’s important to monitor your daily nutrient intake with certain supplements.

What’s your opinion on synthetic vitamins? Are they currently a part of your health plan? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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