Good vs. bad: Natural vs. synthetic vitamin E

In many cases there’s not much difference between natural and synthetic forms of vitamins. However, the synthetic form of vitamin E is not good for us and it’s best to avoid products containing this synthesized mineral.

The biologically active form of vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol and the natural form consists of just one isomer. Synthetic alpha-tocopherol, conversely, contains eight different isomers. Only one of the isomers – around 12 percent of synthetic molecule – is identical to the natural occurring vitamin E. The other seven isomers range in potency from 21 percent to 90 percent of natural d-alpha-tocopherol.

So what does this mean to your body? Simply put the body absorbs natural and synthetic supplements differently. Studies have found that the natural vitamin absorbs much better than synthetic versions because specific binding and transport proteins produced in the liver select the natural d-alpha form of vitamin E and largely ignore all other forms.

Basically, your body throws away everything else in the vitamin; thus, synthetic vitamin E is essentially wasted. Researchers at Oregon State University found the human body evacuates synthetic vitamin E three times quicker than the natural form.

Studies have also shown the effectiveness of natural and synthetic vitamin E. Japanese researchers found that it took nearly 300mg of synthetic vitamin to equal the blood levels achieved by a 100mg does of the natural vitamin. Studies stateside at East Tennessee State University, found that natural vitamin E increased twice as much as the synthetic form in healthy subjects and pregnant women. Also in umbilical cords, natural vitamin E levels were even three times higher than the synthetic vitamin levels.

Vitamin E doesn’t just affect the body’s blood. The East Tennessee State University research also showed the short-term absorption of natural and synthetic vitamin E. Because tissue naturally takes longer than blood to absorb nutrients researchers tracked how long it took the tissue to take in synthetic and natural vitamin E. Of course, natural vitamin E levels were higher than synthetic levels after 23 days of vitamin E supplementation.

Most dietary supplements contain synthetic vitamins. Some of these synthetic vitamins, including vitamin E, can be both ineffective and potentially dangerous to our health. Meanwhile, other common synthetic compounds used in dietary supplements are in fact still vitamins themselves. But the synthetic vitamin E remains unnatural and is often used in cheaper supplements and products.

Knowing how to read a label to avoid these common unnatural nutrients is the key for truly health-conscious consumers who wish to avoid them. So how do you know if a product has natural or synthesized vitamin E? The natural vitamin E is listed as d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate, or d-alpha tocopheryl succinate. However, synthetic forms of vitamin E are labeled with a dl- prefix.

So look out for synthetic vitamin E and make sure to use the natural vitamin. The National Academy of Science recognizes natural vitamin E as the standard vitamin to use. It’s most beneficial to use the natural vitamin E because it contains the one isomer humans absorb most effectively.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Good vs. bad: Natural vs. synthetic vitamin E

  1. Michael

    I just had a boxed cereal that listed only “mixed tocopherols” and wheat as ingredients. This produced an ananalphylact reaction in less than 60 seconds . It seems the “mixed tocopherols” must have included some synthetic Vitamin E. Dangerous reaction!

  2. Andrea Wilkins

    I have been diagnosed with Idiopathic Anaphylactic Allergic Asthma. I know that I am highly allergic to Rosemary and I, too go into anaphylaxis when I use or ingest products containing Tocopherols. There is something Very Dangerous going on here with our foods, cosmetics, and household cleaners.
    I do not have the life I used to have. It is very sad!

  3. ichii

    So what do you do when the tocopherol acetate/tocopheryl acetate has NO prefix? What if the company does not indicate with a d or dl at all?

    All this is so frustrating because even if it IS naturally occurring Vit E, then is it a soybean derivative? Canola? Wheat germ? Or sometimes a product you’ve carefully vetted suddenly changes suppliers and WHAM! Your beloved product now has new allergens or irritants that weren’t initially there when you started using the product. Geez… why am I suddenly breaking out with nasty contact dermatitis? Gotta love what the industry can get away with…

    I wish these companies would just disclose the damn ingredients and live and let live; let the consumers decide if they want it. If someone goes through the trouble of learning about these ingredients and being a detective to solve the mystery of what works for their body and what doesn’t, then they’ve EARNED the right to know what’s in the ingredients.

    Proper labeling isn’t that hard. Or are ALL these companies really that lazy??? Oh… it’s the FDA that doesn’t enforce accurate labeling? I blame everyone.

    For example, even on seemingly transparent companies such as Dr. Roebuck’s anti-aging face cream, they only list “tocopherol acetate” without any prefix. How convenient. And sometimes I see their ingredients listed as “natural Vitamin E”. So which is it? Would it be that hard to list “tocopherol acetate (soybean)” or “tocopherol acetate (wheat germ)” or actually add the proper prefix of d or dl? Or maybe the ingredients fluctuate THAT MUCH so the company decides to leave their ingredient list as vague and benign as possible? Allowing the convenience of wiggle room to change ingredients whenever they need to, based on their supplies? Which is it? Grrrr…

    Off soapbox now.

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