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Are those Synthetic Vitamins Doing More Harm than Good?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Nutri-Con page.
For many Canadians, the pledge to get healthier in 2012 starts with a trip to the drug store to load up on vitamins and dietary supplements.

But they may not know those bottles of vitamin D, echinacea or glucosamine likely contain synthetic ingredients, added for a variety of reasons, such as binding pills together or giving them a certain colour, texture or taste.

Many researchers who study vitamins, and members of the medical community, say these ingredients, which can include magnesium stearate, a lubricant that keeps tablets from sticking to machinery, calcium carbonate, often used as a processing aid, or silica, which is used to add bulk to tablets, are perfectly safe.

But a vocal minority is questioning whether the millions of vitamins and supplements made with synthetic additives consumed by Canadians each year have serious health effects. They argue chemical ingredients aren't meant for human consumption and that taking vitamins cooked up in a lab delivers nowhere close to the nutritional benefits of the real thing.

Critics in the naturopathic and organic communities take issue with vitamins that are produced using a chemical process, which they say block the body's ability to properly absorb nutrients. The only vitamins people should be taking are those derived naturally from food or plant sources, they argue.

"The whole idea of a synthetic nutrient, it's an oxymoron," said Win Treadway, a naturopathic doctor and associate with the Organic Consumers Association, based in Finland, Minnesota. "It really doesn't make sense."