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Natural VS Synthetic Supplements: What's the difference and which one is better

Natural VS Synthetic Supplements: What's the difference and which one is better

It can be increasingly difficult to get all the nutrients we need from our food these days. Even if we do, we are exposed to so many health disruptors each day that many inevitably suffer nutrient and chemical imbalances that lead to chronic symptoms or even disease. Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Calcium, and Iron are just some of the most common nutrient deficiencies we see, so it's no wonder so many are reaching for supplements to help ensure their health remains optimal throughout the year.

However, a debate emerges when it comes to choosing between synthetic or natural supplements. This article will dive into the key differences between each and uncover the pros and cons on both sides.

What are synthetic supplements?

Synthetic supplements are lab-made chemical compounds found in dietary supplements or fortified foods. These synthetic nutrients are made to mimic their real nutrient counterpart, and they react similarly in the body. Most of the supplements found on the market today are synthetic, whether multivitamins or individual nutrient supplements. When reading labels of supplements, you can recognise synthetic nutrients if the ingredients are labeled with a chemical name – for example, Vitamin C would be called ascorbic acid and Vitamin D3 cholecalciferol.

What are natural supplements?

Minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, and antioxidants are naturally occurring in foods such as vegetables, fruit, dairy, beans, grains, fish, and meat. Natural supplements are made from concentrated extracts or dehydrated whole foods. For example, a dehydrated or fermented fruit or vegetable can be ground up and put into a capsule creating a natural supplement. You will recognise natural supplements by reading the label and seeing if the ingredients are plant based.

Which one is better?

Before we dive into the pros and cons of synthetic versus natural supplements, it's important we take a moment to talk about bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to how much of a nutrient your body uses. It measures how much of the chemical or nutrient reaches your bloodstream and how much of that is available for cells and tissues to store or use. When a chemical is not bioavailable, it's stored in the liver until it can be used or expelled. Synthetic nutrients are more likely to be stored and build up in the liver, which can lead to toxicity. In contrast, natural supplements are more easily absorbed, used, and expelled.

It should also be noted that nutrition is complex, and nutrients work alongside other compounds such as minerals and enzymes to make the most of or activate the nutrient in the body. For example, the effects of curcumin, primarily found in turmeric, can be boosted by taking it with black pepper. Piperine (found in black pepper) makes the curcumin more bioavailable. It's important to remember that different nutrients and compounds help each other function better. If you’re taking a single nutrient synthetic supplement, you may be missing the other co-factors contributing to its absorption and use.


The Benefits of Synthetic Supplements

  • Almost chemically identical to those found in food
  • In some cases, synthetic nutrients can be equally bioavailable or even more readily available than their natural counterpart
  • Fortified foods and dietary supplements are beneficial when you can't get enough nutrients from natural sources

Synthetic Supplements Cons

  • Your body may react differently to synthetic nutrients than it would to natural ones
  • Dosage in synthetic supplements is often higher than we need; too much of a nutrient can lead to adverse effects
  • It's still unclear how well synthetic nutrients are absorbed
  • Some studies indicate that high levels of certain synthetic supplements can increase the risk of cancer, cause low bone density, or lead to liver toxicity.

The Benefits of Natural Supplements

  • The wide range of enzymes, trace minerals, and phytonutrients found in foods and natural supplements aid in the absorption of nutrients, something that an individualised synthetic supplement may not be able to accomplish.
  • Natural, whole food-derived supplements are chemical-free
  • They are naturally derived from plant and animal sources
  • Natural supplements are more bioavailable and recognisable to your body

Natural Supplements Cons

  • You need higher doses of natural foods and supplements to give you the same dosage as a synthetic supplement. For example, while you may need one capsule of a synthetic nutrient, you may need 3 of a natural one.
  • You may have to do some due diligence to ensure your supplement is 100% natural and organic

Drawing a conclusion

When it comes to choosing between natural and synthetic, it's safe to say that the fewer chemicals we're putting in our body, the better. And while the data is inconclusive in terms of one being more effective than the other, there are some alarming cons when it comes to synthetic supplements – most notably, the high dosing of synthetic supplements, which can lead to adverse effects.

Natural supplements or nutrients naturally match up with our human biology making them easily recognisable and absorbable. Not to mention the benefits of ingesting our nutrients alongside other beneficial compounds naturally found in food help ensure our body uses the nutrients more effectively.

When in doubt, remember it's always best to choose a less processed and more natural option to get your nutrients.

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