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The two tablets look alike but there is a world of difference between them. Here’s why.
The body’s vital need for vitamins and minerals has been so well established that even the staunchest advocates of Pasteur, Lister and Koch will readily admit that other factors besides germs, viruses and toxins can lead to disease. Furthermore, as the refining and processing and adulterating of natural foods continues its accelerated pace and we are hurried down the path to the “hidden deficiency disease” era, it has been nearly equally as well established that many people–especially the pregnant, the sick, the infirm and the “forty-plus” adult–do not supply their body’s nutritional requirements for optimum health from their diet alone. And so, in most cases, the practice of taking multiple vitamin and mineral supplements has become a sound preventive as well as therapeutic measure.
In this the manufacturers of the natural supplements and as well as of the synthetic products are in agreement. After that they part company.
One of the better known distributors of synthetic vitamins and minerals–or, at least, the one that has the “noisiest” advertising–”sells” its radio audience with words to this effect: “Thanks to the government standardization of vitamins and minerals and to the Food and Drug Administration, one 50 mg. tablet of a particular vitamin is exactly the same as any other 50 mg. tablet of that particular vitamin though they are manufactured by two different companies. So why pay more when we can supply you with the same product at ½ or ⅓ the price? Do what doctors and hospitals do and buy your nutritional supplements from us!”
Why Pay More? Here’s Why.
Their argument seems almost unanswerable. Why, indeed, pay more when you can buy the exact same thing at ½ or ⅓ the price? You would be a fool to do so–if all things were equal. But they are not–despite the apparent sanctioning of the F.D.A., the Federal Trade Commission and doctors and hospitals. In this world you never get something for nothing–not even vitamins!–and so it becomes a matter of choosing between your pocketbook or your health.
Let’s examine the claims of the synthetics manufacturer more carefully. Precisely what does “standardization” of vitamins mean? In simplified terms, this is a procedure whereby an arbitrary unit of potency is established for a vitamin (or drug) by its pharmacological effect on laboratory animals (usually rats or chicks). The tests or biological assays are generally made for the one specific effect of one specific active factor as, for example, the anti-rachitic effect (per unit) of vitamin D3 for rats and chicks.
It seems almost useless to point out the obvious, namely, that the effect of two “different” vitamin D’s, though it may be similar in rats and chicks, is not necessarily similar in humans. In fact, to quote an authority on the subject of standardization:
“…it is impossible to imagine an animal reaction that does not show fluctuations from time to time throughout the whole colony (of animals in the testing laboratory) or one that does not differ in different laboratories in which conditions of lighting, heating and diet must necessarily vary very much.”1
“As determinations of vitamins become more and more carefully carried out, the more evident does it become that the response of different animals to apparently similar treatment varies greatly and that this variation in response is uncontrollable.”1
Furthermore, anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the various testing techniques knows that these are far from perfect. They know that one test will indicate one potency whereas another test of the same natural substance will indicate a different potency, proving that the two tests must be measuring different factors. Fortunately, as the science of biological assays progresses and finer tests are devised, heretofore hidden active factors in natural materials are brought to light which had been discounted in the older, cruder tests.
A Lesson From History
How have improved methods of testing affected vitamin standardizations in the past? As an example, let’s examine the history of vitamin A standardization. In 1931 a certain arbitrary standard was set as a unit of the so-called vitamin A.
“This preparation served as a standard of reference until further knowledge of the chemistry of the lipochromes revealed the fact that this was not a pure substance but a mixture of substances.”1
Subsequently, in 1934 𝛽-carotene was chosen as the standard. Then, in 1950, the World Health Organization noted:
“It has always been recognized that 𝛽-carotene was not ideal as a standard of reference for determining vitamin A, but no satisfactory preparation was available at the last conference (1934) when 𝛽-carotene was adopted as a standard preparation.”2
And, so, in 1950, the World Health Organization recommended a new standard!
Has that settled the matter? Far from it. As recently as February 1957, in the scientific journal, Nutrition Reviews, an article entitled, “Isomerism of Vitamin A,” notes:
“Although the relationship of vitamin A to its several precursors had been known for some time, the multiple nature of the vitamin itself was not fully appreciated until modern techniques…permitted the separation and characterization of these closely related compounds. Thus although the synthetic vitamin A possessing all five of its double bonds…was also shown to be the major naturally occurring form, it soon became evident that…[it] was not the only vitamin A present in natural sources. [Our italics.] For example, neo-vitamin A, an isomer found in various fish liver oils…with about 85% of the potency of the alltrans [the major form of vitamin A]…It has been suspected that other…isomers occur naturally since many concentrates show greater amounts of vitamin [Our italics] by the Carr-Price reaction (which does not readily distinguish the isomers) than by biologic tests in which the all-trans isomer [on which the synthetic formula is based] is the most active.”3
So that, obviously, no matter what their manufacturers claimed, from 1931 to the present, those who bought synthetic vitamin A were not getting the same product as those who bought the natural vitamin A.
History Repeats Itself
The “standardization” of vitamin D–or for that matter, of the other vitamins–took nearly the exact same course. In 1931 the Permanent Commission on Biological Standardization of the Health Organization of the League of Nations adopted irradiated ergosterol as the international standard for vitamin D. But in 1950 the World Health Organization noted that,
“Being a solution mainly of vitamin D2, it [irradiated ergosterol] has not proved to be sufficiently representative of the D vitamins.”4
And so they recommended crystalline vitamin D3 as the standard.
Then in 1956, Y. Raoul and his co-workers isolated a compound–”ketone 250″–from red tuna liver oil. According to Nutrition Reviews of January 1957, in an article entitled, “A New Antirachitic Compound”:
“Although vitamin D3 had been regarded for some time as the chief naturally occurring antirachitic factor, certain discrepancies in the quantitative measurement of the potencies of natural oils and the amounts of the vitamin they contain has lead to the thought that other active compounds may be present.”5
This was substantiated when “ketone 250” was isolated from the fish liver oil.
“Although the ‘ketone 250’ was found to possess only one-tenth the anti-rachitic activity of vitamin D3 for rats and chicks, its concentration in the oil was five to six times that of the vitamin so that its contribution to the total activity of the oil was significant.”5 [Our italics.]
So that in this instance, again, since 1931 the consumer of synthetic “vitamin D” has not been getting what the consumer of natural vitamin D gets for his money.
- Coward, Katherine H.: The Biological Standardization of the Vitamins. 2 ed., Bailliere, Tindall & Cox, London, 1947.
- World Health Organization, Technical Report Series #3, (Feb.) 1950, page 3.
- “Isomerism of Vitamin A.” Nutrition Reviews, 15:60 (Feb.) 1957.
- World Health Organization, op. cit., page 7.
- “A New Antirachitic Compound.” Nutrition Reviews, 15:23 (Jan.) 1957.
By Lucrecia Lopez
Last month we pointed out how much the so-called “standardization” of vitamins varied from one year to the other since the very first attempt to set the “standards.” We can conclude that no matter how much “faith” the manufacturer of synthetic vitamins has in the Food and Drug Administration and the “standardization” of vitamins, the very people who have set the “standards” do not share this faith. They know only too well the defects inherent in their tests.
The manufacturer of synthetic vitamins can boast that his vitamins are exactly the same as those of any other manufacturer of synthetic vitamins. He might even say that his standard “vitamin” is the same as one of the factors in the natural vitamin product–though even that is a moot question which we will take up later. Nonetheless, he cannot compare his “standard vitamin” with the complete natural vitamin product which contains not only the so-called standard vitamin in the stipulated potency but other members of the complex as well as other valuable factors occurring naturally–whether they have been discovered or not. And to say that “the need for these factors in human nutrition has not been established” is merely to beg the question. The evolution of the vitamin theory graphically illustrates the point we wish to make.
As early as 1753, James Lind, a Scottish naval surgeon, showed how scurvy could be prevented and cured by the addition of fresh fruits, etc. to the diet. In 1882, another naval surgeon, the Japanese Takaki,2 showed bow beriberi could be cured by adding fish, meat and vegetables to the diet. In 1865, a Frenchman, Trousseau, reported that rickets could be cured with cod liver oil and in 1889 Bland-Sutton cured rickets in lion cubs at the London Zoo with cod liver oil!
In 1897 a Dutchman, Eijkman3 by name, demonstrated to the medical world that he could cause a disease in birds similar to beriberi by restricting them to a diet of polished rice and that they could be promptly cured with whole rice. But at that time, Eijkman, in keeping with the thinking of his day, believed that the disease was caused by a certain toxin in the polished rice and that the husk of the rice contained a substance which had the effect of an antidote.
For in 1900 anyone in medical circles who didn’t believe that all disease was caused by germs, viruses or toxins was something of a–you will pardon the expression–”quack.”
In 1900 protein, fats, carbohydrates and certain inorganic salts were the only factors considered as “essential in human nutrition.”
It was another Dutchman in 1901 who first hinted at the existence of a deficiency disease. This Dutchman, Grijns,4 confirmed Eijkman’s experimental findings but felt that the disease was caused by the lack of an essential substance present in the rice husk but left out of the polished rice. In 1906 Eijkman published a review of his experimental work in which he agreed with Grijns’ startling views.
At the same time, in England, Frederick Gewland Hopkins, reporting on his experiment with rats fed a “purified” diet of protein, fats, carbohydrates and inorganic salt, argued for the existence of other “minimal qualitative factors” (other than protein, fats, etc.)–or “accessory nutritional factors” as he later called them.
(Nearly twenty years later in 1925 Hopkins was knighted in recognition of this pioneer work.)
In 1912 these “accessory nutritional factors” finally got a name. Casimir Funk5 reviewed all that had been postulated about this revolutionary new concept of “deficiency disease.” He agreed that disease could be caused by a deficiency of some as yet unknown essential nutritional factors. He believed these factors to be amines and he suggested that they be known as “vitamines”–amines essential to life. (The “e” was later dropped when it was discovered that by no means all of these essential nutritional factors were amines.)
Start of Vitamin Alphabet
In 1915 McCollum and Davis, at the University of Wisconsin, demonstrated that at least two new factors were involved in nutrition: a fat-soluble “A” factor found in butter and other fats, and a water-soluble “B” factor found in many non-fatty foods. From thence came the custom of labelling the vitamins with letters. McCollum and Mellanby later proved that the “A” factor could be broken down still further into “A” and “D”. (As we pointed out in Part I, in recent years it has been discovered that both “A” and “D” are actually complexes, themselves!)
Finally, in 1919–136 years after James Lind had shown how scurvy, a deficiency disease, could be prevented and cured by the addition of natural foodstuffs (fresh fruits, etc.) to the diet–The British Medical Research Committee had to conclude that diseased conditions could be due to the lack of an essential substance and not, as had been the prevailing orthodox viewpoint, to the presence of “positive agents” (i.e., germs, viruses, toxins). It’s not surprising that the “essentiality” of some of the “newer” vitamins is still unrecognized twenty short years after their discovery.
The break down of the water-soluble “B” factor, for example, followed in quick succession after it was discovered that this so-called anti-beriberi substance was also effective against pellagra. The “B” factor was thus broken into two components and, in 1927, the British Accessory Food Factors Committee for Medical Research designated the two components as B1 (the anti-beriberi factor) and B2 (the P.-P. or pellagra-preventing factor). Vitamin “B2” in turn was quickly recognized to be a complex: In 1928, inositol was isolated from the so-called B2; pantothenic acid in 1930; biotin, also known as vitamin H, in 1931; riboflavin (now officially designated as B2) in 1933; vitamin B6 (also called pyridoxine) in 1934; nicotinamide (recognized as the pellagra-preventing factor) in 1937; folic acid or folacin in 1943; and vitamin B12 in 1948–just to mention some of the more important stages in the “recognition” of.the vitamin B complex.
The National Research Council, as of 1953, had established “minimum daily requirements” (MDR) for only the “standard” A, C, D vitamins and three members of the B complex: thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. To date it has not even officially admitted the need for most of the others in human nutrition–though innumerable scientific experiment and reports have testified to their importance as a look through any medical journal or text on nutrition or biochemistry will tell you.
A few short years ago the “need in human nutrition for vitamin B6 had not been established.” Yet in 1953 several reports appeared in medical journals describing cases of babies who had developed convulsions because they had been drinking a proprietary milk formula deficient in vitamin B6.
“The formular had been fortified with a number of the vitamins; but since knowledge was lacking as to vitamin B6 requirements of infants and since no case of human deficiency of this vitamin had been reported, this dietary essential was not increased above that in the milk used for the formulation. In addition, the heat treatment of the product had decreased the vitamin B6 content.”6
Many, many more such factors are waiting to be recognized. This is common knowledge:
“On the basis of precedent, there is every reason to suppose that the family of vitamins is due to be considerably enlarged in the second half century of its existence.” 7
The moral of our story is apparent: the need for a particular vitamin or mineral does not start with its “discovery,” isolation and establishment of minimum daily requirements. The vitamin and the body’s utilization of it have always existed–though some of our all-knowing authorities may not be eager to admit it. And the person who relies on natural products to supply his needs is wiser than the one who waits for the vitamins to be isolated and synthesized. The official U. S. Army Nutritional Manual issued in 1949 states:
“Wherever possible, the nutrients required should be obtained from natural foods rather than synthetic preparations. This is particularly true of the vitamins. Synthetic vitamin concentrates, tablets and pills may not contain all of the known nutrients, either as such or in optimal proportion. Furthermore, they obviously may not contain lesser known or unknown nutrients which are however provided by natural foods.”
All natural food supplements are derived from natural foods which are known to be rich sources of vitamins and minerals (such as yeast, dessicated liver, wheat germ, soya, fish liver oils, kelp, watercress, etc., to name a few). And though the potency of only the known vitamins and trace elements are specified on the label, you can be sure that the unknown ones are there, too.
The superiority of the natural supplement to the synthetic or crystallized vitamin does not only lie in the number of “hidden” factors it contains. The quotation from the U. S. Army Nutrition Manual implies another.
“Synthetic vitamin concentrates, tablets and pills may not contain all of the known nutrients, either as such or in optimal proportions.”
The key words here are “optimal proportions.” The inter-relationship of the vitamins and amino acids6 and trace elements; their synergistic or potentiating action on one another; their dependence on one another has in many instances been well established. As in the case of the “undiscovered” vitamins, many such relationships have still to be recognized. But, recognized or no, they are a question of optimal or proper proportion. History has shown that these dependent or inter-related combinations exist in Nature–not in synthetic or crystalline products.
These inter-relationships among the different nutrients present a potentially grave danger in the case of synthetic and crystalline vitamins taken in high potencies. Richards,8 for example, has demonstrated that an excessive intake of thiamine produces a pyridoxine deficiency. Spies and others9 have reported that patients suffering from pellagra who are treated with niacin in high potencies, without any other change in their diet, often acquire beriberi, riboflavin deficiency or both. (It is believed that in cases of pellagra these deficiencies may be secondary to the niacin deficiency.) If natural supplements were used instead, these cases would not arise for the supplements would be providing all of the B complex.
In a leaflet entitled “Food Facts vs. Food Fallacies,” issued in April 1957, the Food and Drug Administration states the following:
“The American food supply is unsurpassed in volume, variety, and nutritional value. By patronizing all departments of a modern food store we can easily supply all of our nutritional needs…
“Notwithstanding the abundance and quality of the American food supply a persistent campaign is being carried on to undermine public confidence in the nutritional value of staple foods. False ideas about food are circulated by food faddists and by fringe promoters of vitamin and mineral products. Such products are sometimes offered cure-alls for serious disease conditions. This may be dangerous to health, especially if ailing people are led to put off getting proper medical attention.
“Today the Food and Drug Administration is especially concerned about the promotion of ‘food supplements’ as cure-alls for conditions which require medical attention…
“Nutrition authorities agree that the best way to buy vitamin and minerals is in the packages provided by nature–vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, meats, fish, and whole grain, or enriched bread and cereals.”
We can agree with the FDA that “the American food supply is unsurpassed in volume,” but we have our grave doubts about its quality. The “nutritional authorities” which the FDA cites will almost unanimously agree that the present practice of processing, refining and adulterating practically everything grown under the sun, destroys much of the nutritional value of the foodstuffs. And they will also agree that the vast majority of the population eats mostly these processed foods. Furthermore, the Department of Agriculture is hardly as complacent about United States farm soil, for each year that passes finds that it has been robbed of even more minerals. For this reason it has instituted the soil conservation programs. How can food quality be high if the soil on which it’s grown is poor?
We can certainly agree with the FDA that food supplements (natural or otherwise) are NOT “cure-alls for serious disease conditions” and that they are dangerous in such cases if they prevent the person from getting proper, competent, professional attention. We believe that the principal benefit to be derived from a natural diet and natural food supplements is the prevention of disease; the maintenance of health. However, we think most doctors will agree that vitamin and mineral supplementation is a valuable adjunct in most forms of therapy.
We most heartily agree with the FDA that “the best way to buy vitamins and minerals is in the packages provided by nature…” But, nowadays, who’s lucky enough to find those natural packages? Only a small portion of the population is that lucky. More power to them–may they stay that way! We’re from the “big city”–we usually can only find these natural packages in the health food store.
- Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, edited by M. G. Wohl and R. S. Goodhart. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia, 1955, p. 297; “Vitamins the first half century,” The Lederle Bulletin, 1957, p. 32.
- Takaki: Lancet 86, 189, 233: 1887.
- Eijkman: Virchow’s Archiv. 148: 523, 1897; 149:187, 1897.
- Grijns: v. Nederl. Indie. 41:3, 1901.
- Casimir Funk: Physiol. 43:395, 1911; J.A.M.A. 109:2086, 1937.
- Otto A. Bessey: “Role of Vitamins in the Metabolism of Amino Acids (Report to the Council on Foods and Nutrition),” A.M.A. 164:1228 (July 9th) 1957.
- The Lederle Bulletin; op. cit.
- Richards: Med. J. 1:433, 1945.
- Spies, Vilter and Ashe: A.M.A. 113:931, 1939.