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Whole Food vs Synthetic Vitamins

by Philip Reich
Whole Food vs Synthetic Vitamins for Dogs and Cats

We are whole food proponents and have been for quite some time... but weren’t always. For a period of time, like most people, our supplement regimen consisted of a popular multivitamin supplement along with a variety of additional supplements that were “in the news”. I was quite happy with that regimen until I started to educate myself and realize that those educational articles in the monthly “health” magazine were not truly educational articles written for my benefit, but instead primarily advertisements.

My epiphany was not overnight, but instead a journey combining education, common sense and personal experience that I applied to the health of not only myself and my wife but to our animals as well. Quite simply, I came to understand that animal biology has never evolved to accept synthetic vitamins no matter how much vitamin and food manufactures try to convince us otherwise. That is why The Pet Health and Nutrition Center supplements and remedies focus on organic, whole foods and always will. The success we have with both people and animals is quite rewarding, yet even we are sometimes pleasantly surprised with the simplicity in which chronic conditions are alleviated.

How the Body Utilizes Nutrients

Whole foods go through three kinds of processing in the body. First there is digestion, during which food is transformed into substances that can be utilized by cells for energy. Next, these digested substances are absorbed by the body when food moves from the intestines into the blood. Lastly, metabolism occurs when food substances are used as energy sources or building blocks for other purposes needed by the body.

Bodily processes are quite complex, yet extremely efficient, and you can’t help but see the majesty of this creation, our body, that we take so much for granted on a daily basis. However, as great as our capacity to utilize natural nutrients from food is, organisms lack the capacity to properly utilize synthetic nutrients derived from chemical processing.

A body experiences difficulty trying to regulate the absorption of synthetic vitamins and optimize their levels and this inability to reach homeostasis, or balance, so easily accomplished with whole foods, can have very serious short and long term consequences. In reality, synthetic vitamins are received by the body similarly to pharmaceutical drugs, and like all drugs they can potentially disrupt normal metabolic functions often with devastating side effects.

To get all of the healthy, disease-fighting benefits from what we eat, or feed to our dogs and cats, it’s best to obtain nutrients from whole foods rather than from synthetic substitutes. After this recent decades long vitamin craze, more and more studies indicate that an animal’s body utilizes nutrients from whole foods better and that the desire by manufacturers to replace real nutrients with cheaper synthetic ones in their processed human and pet foods is not living up to the hype. For instance, a recent study from Oregon State University found that an important phytochemical in broccoli and other similar veggies is poorly absorbed and much less beneficial when isolated and taken in supplement form and this study is far from alone in its conclusion.

"The whole nutrient complex is greater than the sum of its parts."
-Dr. Royal Lee

Yellow Urine, Excesses and Toxins

It is really weird, but when I was younger and utilized synthetic vitamin supplements I remember somehow feeling like I was doing a good thing when my urine turned bright yellow within a very short time of taking a supplement. I viewed it like “wow, this thing must really be working!”. Of course now I realize that I was just peeing out the majority of what I paid for. Did you ever notice the bright color of your urine or your pet’s urine after taking a synthetic vitamin supplement or just from all those synthetic vitamins found in commercial pet foods?

Urine should be clear to straw colored, never yellow. Yellow urine is a sign of dehydration, the body attempting to rid itself of excesses or potentially a more serious medical condition. What is amazing is that I can take a tablespoon of bee pollen, loaded with bright yellow plant pigments and B vitamins and my urine will never turn yellow nor will that of my dogs. Yet, one tiny little commercial multivitamin and there it is - bright yellow urine that is the consequence of my liver and kidneys working overtime to remove excess synthetic chemicals.

All foods nowadays can contain some potentially toxic substances since there are many present in our environment. Yet, these toxins are often negated by the presence of natural compounds found in healthy, whole foods. For example, the nitrates found in carrots can be toxic at high doses. However, nitrates are not concentrated in carrots and they are neutralized by the vitamin C also found in carrots - the benefits of the synergy of whole foods. This can not be said about synthetic substances which are typically isolated away from other synergistic substances they would be found alongside in nature.

This talk of toxins brings up a funny story (but not really funny). Recently, in the news there was a story concerning a large, popular vitamin retailer whose multivitamins were independently tested. This testing indicated rather high levels of lead, far in excess of what are considered acceptable levels. I thought to myself how sorry I felt for those people happily taking their synthetic multivitamin supplement and consuming large amounts of lead at the same time, all the while thinking that they are doing the right thing for their health. I was feeling quite above the fray until I remembered that years ago I took the same multivitamin supplement and gave one to my wife as well.

Lots of Money to be Made in Supplements

Problems usually begin to arise when money comes into play and the supplement industry is no exception. You see, there isn’t much money in an apple per se, but there is tremendous amounts of money if you can convince people that the most talked about nutrients found in apples are found in this great new supplement and it is so much better than eating an apple...

Just think of the advantages - mass produced synthetic substances (pennies), shelf life (years), transportation costs (a fraction of shipping fresh, whole foods) and all too often you can take up most of a bottle with cheap fillers. This all leads to HUGE profits for large supplement manufacturers who can then afford to take out full page advertisements lauding the latest new fad and telling you it is the same, or better, than eating the real thing or feeding your dog or cat a whole food diet.

Toxicity Side Effects of Excess Fat Soluble Vitamins

For years we have all been aware of one story or another indicating the dangers of certain vitamins. I remember 15 or 20 years ago when the stories about the harmful effects of beta-carotene began to come out in relation to lung cancer. At the time I wasn’t sure if that meant I shouldn’t eat so many carrots or other foods that contained beta-carotene. Of course, in time I began to make the distinction between synthetic beta-carotene and that found in whole foods.

I have recently become alarmed at the increasing usage of vitamin D in large doses. Research has been showing that the body does not utilize the vitamin D obtained through supplements as it does that obtained from whole foods or sunshine. More recently I read a study that indicated that supplementing with higher doses of vitamin D is now being associated with damage to the heart. Below are some more potential dangers related to supplementing with synthetic vitamins:

Vitamin A: abdominal pain, vomiting, headache, lethargy, eczema, patchy hair loss, edema, anemia, respiratory tract infection, chronic liver disease

Vitamin E: allergic reaction, breathing impairments, swelling of the tongue, fatigue, headache, nausea, blurred vision, excessive bleeding (anticoagulation due to inhibition of vitamin K), increased oxidative stress, increased hypertension, decreased life span

Vitamin K: supplementation with a synthetic form of vitamin K Menadione has been associated with liver damage. Some reports indicate a significant association between high intramuscular levels of vitamin K and cancer.

Vitamin D: even though vitamin D poisoning is rare, toxicity can occur under certain medical conditions such as primary hyperparathyroidism, tuberculosis and lymphoma. Note that vitamin D is completely safe when produced by the body itself through UV sunlight exposure.

As for the water soluble vitamins, these have been generally considered safe simply because water soluble vitamins are not stored by the body. Since any excess of water soluble vitamins is excreted in the urine, they presumably can't accumulate in toxic levels and therefore are regarded as safe. However, an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 87, No. 1, 142-149, January 2008) examining the effect of vitamin C on training efficiency in animals and humans, reveals that supplementation with vitamin C ascorbate devastates muscle, causing impairment in mitochondrial function, loss of endurance, and inhibition of the body's own antioxidant enzymes superoxide dimutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxide. In other words, synthetic vitamin C at certain levels promotes oxidative damage in the body instead of performing as an antioxidant as promoted.

In addition to toxicity issues discussed above, there is another danger of excess with synthetic vitamins. When too much of any particular vitamin is taken, it tends to upset the balance of natural vitamin metabolism and can lead to a deficiency of other vitamins. This has been clearly demonstrated in the case of the various members of vitamin B complex.

For example, an excess of certain B factors, such as thiamine [vitamin B1], has been found to produce compensatory deficiency of other factors, such as pyroxidine [vitamin B6]. This shows why it is much better to use the entire vitamin B complex, as provided by natural, whole food sources of the vitamin.

In Conclusion

Synthetic supplements are often processed at high temperatures, contain residual petroleum derived chemical solvents (such as benzene - a potent carcinogen) and tablets are often coated with methylene chloride another carcinogenic material. According to Dr. Zoltan P. Rona, M.D., “Although most healthy people will have no obvious side effects from ingesting small amounts of toxins found in cheap vitamins, the long term consequences of continuous, daily intake are potentially dangerous. Over 7% of the population displays sensitivity to these chemicals.”

Could the above pertain to you or your dog or cat? Could the processed food you feed your family or pets fortified with synthetic vitamins to make up for its lack of nutrition be affecting your family’s health? There is a reason that we highly recommend whole food diets and natural, whole food supplementation - they are safer and much healthier for your family!


Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with whole foods: Asian traditions and modern nutrition (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Thibodeau, G.A., & Patton, K.T. (2008). Structure & function of the body. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

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