Are Vitamins Natural?

Are Vitamins Natural? Here’s What You Need to Know

Vitamins and minerals, also known as micronutrients, originate from natural sources like plants and the earth. Yet, most supplements and fortified foods on the market today contain synthetic versions of these nutrients.

Synthetic vitamins aren’t inherently ‘bad’. Many health products relied on in modern day are synthetic, such as painkillers like ibuprofen. But natural nutrients may offer a variety of health and environmental benefits. 

Natural vs. Synthetic Micronutrients

Synthetic micronutrients are made in a laboratory using chemical, mechanical, or biotechnological methods1. Although they often share a similar chemical composition with their natural counterparts, they can differ in structure or shape. This matters because vitamins often act as enzymes in the body, and a precise shape is needed to function properly.

In contrast, natural vitamins and minerals are sourced directly from their natural sources, such as plants and fungi, which have served as vital sources of human nutrition for millions of years. 

Natural nutrients are extracted from these sources, preserving their original structure and beneficial compounds. This often provides a broader spectrum of nutrients and synergistic elements that can enhance absorption and contribute to better health.

The Origins of Synthetic Micronutrients

Synthetic micronutrients emerged in the early 20th century to address widespread nutrient deficiencies. They could be mass-produced, making them a convenient and cost-effective solution. However, they are often derived from unsustainable petrochemical or animal origins.

Naturally-derived micronutrients weren’t initially used in supplements or food fortification due to their vulnerability to degradation from temperature and light. Technological advancements are enhancing the stability of micronutrients, potentially bridging the gap to make them more akin to synthetic nutrients.

The Benefits of Plant-Derived Micronutrients

There are three key benefits of plant-derived vitamins and minerals: 

  1. Natural micronutrients offer synergistic benefits with other natural compounds.
  2. Natural micronutrients are in a form the body can easily utilise.
  3. Natural micronutrients have a lower risk of contamination compared to synthetics. 

Let’s take a look at these in more detail. 

Natural micronutrients offer synergistic benefits with other natural compounds

    Humans evolved to eat foods, not isolated nutrients. Whole foods contain a variety of nutrients, fibre, and compounds like polyphenols and bioactives, which work synergistically to enhance their absorption and effectiveness.

    For example, broccoli contains vitamin C, iron, and quercetin. Vitamin C helps with iron absorption, while quercetin is an antioxidant, mitigating the effects of oxidative stress — a key contributor to ageing and inflammation.

    As natural micronutrients are made by concentrating plants and fungi, they preserve these nutrients and beneficial compounds. This approach results in more than just isolated vitamins and minerals—it creates a nutrient-rich ecosystem.

    Natural micronutrients can be easily utilised in the body 

      Micronutrients need to be in their active form for the body to use them effectively. 

      With folate, for example, the natural version is closer to the active form than the synthetic version, suggesting it’ll be more readily absorbed by the body2. While dietary folate absorption can be inhibited by other dietary elements, this may not be the case with concentrated natural nutrients.

      Though research is in its early stages, there is some evidence to show that natural nutrients may be better utilised by the body. For example, small human studies have shown that natural vitamin E was absorbed twice as efficiently as synthetic vitamin E3.

      Swansea University are conducting a double-blind, randomised controlled trial, comparing the bioavailability of natural or synthetic micronutrients. So, more rigorous data on the topic will be available soon.

      Check out the ‘Research’ section on our website to find out more and sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop.

      Natural micronutrients have a lower risk of contamination compared to synthetics. 

        Studies have shown that synthetic multi-nutrient supplements can contain contaminants4, leading to doubts about purity and safety. 

        Since natural nutrients are sourced directly from plants and the earth, there’s more confidence in knowing exactly where they’re coming from and what’s in them. This is especially true for organically certified products.

        Many supplements contain very high doses of synthetic nutrients, much more than you’d get naturally in food. While it’s unlikely, this can increase the risk of vitamin and mineral toxicity, of which symptoms can be severe.

        There is also evidence to show high doses of synthetic nutrients are linked to chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease (CVD) and some cancers5-8, but more research is needed. 

        Take home message 

        Vitamins and minerals in supplements and fortified foods aren’t natural. Natural micronutrients offer a more holistic approach to nutrition with potential environmental and health benefits. As research progresses, natural micronutrients are becoming a more valuable option for fortification and supplementation.

        Join the GO NATURAL movement! Contact us to learn more and sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop.


        • The modern-day source of micronutrients might surprise you.
        • Synthetic vitamins emerged in the 20th century for fortification efforts, while natural vitamins from plants and fungi have been available for millennia.
        • Synthetic micronutrients are lab-made through mechanical or chemical processes, whereas natural micronutrients are extracted from plants or fungi, retaining the nutrients present in the original food.
        • Natural micronutrients may offer a synergistic blend of nutrients and beneficial compounds that enhance absorption and play important roles in the body.
        • Synthetic nutrient supplements can contain contaminants and high-dose supplements may lead to toxicity or adverse health effects.


        1. Vandamme EJ. Production of vitamins, coenzymes and related biochemicals by biotechnological processes. J Chem Technol Biotechnol. 1992;53(4):313-27. doi: 10.1002/jctb.280530402. PMID: 1368195. 
        2. Carboni L. Active Folate Versus Folic Acid: The Role of 5-MTHF (Methylfolate) in Human Health. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2022 Jul;21(3):36-41. PMID: 35999905; PMCID: PMC9380836.
        3. Burton GW, Traber MG, Acuff RV, Walters DN, Kayden H, Hughes L, Ingold KU. Human plasma and tissue alpha-tocopherol concentrations in response to supplementation with deuterated natural and synthetic vitamin E. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Apr;67(4):669-84. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/67.4.669. PMID: 9537614.
        4. João Guilherme Costa, Bojana Vidovic, Nuno Saraiva, Maria do Céu Costa, Giorgia Del Favero, Doris Marko, Nuno G. Oliveira & Ana Sofia Fernandes. Contaminants: a dark side of food supplements? 2019. Free Radical Research. 53:sup1, 1113-1135, DOI: 10.1080/10715762.2019.1636045 
        5. Mursu J, Robien K, Harnack LJ, Park K, Jacobs DR. Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(18):1625–1633. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.445
        6. Klein EA, Thompson IM, Tangen CM, et al. Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer: The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA. 2011;306(14):1549–1556. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1437
        7. Chao Yang, Xiangling Shi, Hui Xia, Xian Yang, Hechun Liu, Da Pan & Guiju Sun (2020) The Evidence and Controversy Between Dietary Calcium Intake and Calcium Supplementation and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies and Randomized Controlled Trials, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 39:4, 352-370, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2019.1649219
        8. Myung, Seung-Kwon, Hong-Bae Kim, Yong-Jae Lee, Yoon-Jung Choi, and Seung-Won Oh (2021) Calcium Supplements and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials, Nutrients 13, no. 2: 368.
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