Natural and Synthetic Vitamins

I haven’t yet talked about an important aspect of nutrition – vitamins.  You may have noticed, also, that with all of my discussions of supplements, everything I give to my dog is in a natural, food based  form.  There are a lot of reasons for that.

I certainly believe that there is a place for western, Pharmaceutical solutions to disease.  I studied biochemistry and molecular biology, and worked as a medicinal chemist for many years, synthesizing potential cancer cures.  But when I look at nutrition, in both humans and animals, I’ve come to the conclusion that natural sources are the best way to get your nutrition, and the best way to feed your dog.

Vitamins are the name for a set of compounds that are required for many biological functions in the cell.  Vitamins as a group vary widely in how they appear chemically and their molecular functions, so it’s difficult to discuss them without focusing on one particular vitamin at a time.  For this week, I’m going to look at Vitamin E.

Vitamin E is important for the circulatory system, is an important anti-oxidant, and may be an important way for cells to signal each other.  But to understand the difference between natural and synthetic Vitamin E, we need to understand a little more about synthetic chemistry.

This is what the biologically active form of Vitamin E looks like:

The important thing to realize in the picture are the Solid triangles and the dashed triangles.  Molecular compounds are, of course, 3-dimensional objects.   Chemists compensate for this by using the solid triangles and dashed triangles to represent areas where the molecule would go outward, off of the paper and inward, into the paper.

It not terribly important to be able to visualize the molecule perfectly.  The important issue is when you realize that with current chemistry, it is impossible to create only molecules with the specific 3-dimensional structure above.  And very, very difficult to separate the different forms.  So most manufacturers of Vitamin E supplements just don’t do it.

Another piece of this puzzle is that your body, and your dogs’ body, can only use one specific 3-d form.  All of the others are excreted away.  So if you are taking Vitamin supplements that were chemically synthesized, about  half of what you are taking is completely worthless.

Naturally occurring Vitamin E, in foods, will only occur in the form that is usable.  There are studies that show that that vitamin E from natural sources is absorbed twice as effectively as that of synthetic.

What are good food sources for Vitamin E?  A lot of green leafy vegetables and tomatoes, are great for vitamins in general (Spinach may be bad for dogs though).  Squash has a high amount of vitamin E as well.  Of the foods that we’ve disscussed previously, bee pollen, spirulina and flax seed are all sources of vitamin E.

This is another reason why natural foods are great; by supplementing with natural foods, you get many benefits from just one supplement!


Thiel, RJ. (2000) Natural vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones.  Medical Hypotheses 55(6): 461-469

Traber, MG; Elsner, A; Brigelius-Flohe, R. (1998) Synthetic as compared with natural vitamin E is preferentially excreted as Alpha-CEHC in human urine: studies using deuterated alpha-tocopheryl acetates.  FEBS Letters 437: 145-148.

Lodge, JK.  (2005) Vitamin E bioavailability in humans.  Journal of plant physiology 162 790-796




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