Vitamin flap: Did we miss the green?

“Look around the room and make a note of everything brown. Then close your eyes. Do you see those things? OK now, what do you remember – that was green?”

In yesterday’s post I reported on the release of a major study that got headlines around the world, Vitamins A, C and E are ‘a waste of time and may even shorten your life’

The reaction was swift and strong, with everyone posting denouncing the results of the study. Natural foods and supplements websites also screamed about the results and the publicity the report got.

And, one reader pointed out that I forgot my usual warning that I’m part owner of a little start-up that 1)publishes the short “Are Your Vitamins Safe?” report showing people how to test their vitamins and 2) markets a whole food multi mentioned there (versus a synthetic one) – an oversight I corrected instantly and apologize for.


My question: Why is everyone involved in natural health and supplements so quick to denounce the study and/or its results?

Every study is motivated by someone with a point of view, else it’s not undertaken. Who else would do (or pay for) all the work?

Naturally, we want to know who paid for a controversial study/report or what the point of view was. Then the reader can add the appropriate grain or pound of salt.

From the results online, we in the alternative health business seem to believe that this is a case of big pharma being after us as an industry, supporting another big report that shows vitamins and supplements are useless or worse. So that they can drive people away from buying supplements and towards their drugs.

Granted. But, did we jump the gun too fast here?

The vitamins likely used in all these studies were probably synthetic (e.g. they refer to betacarotene, an isolated nutrient). Nearly all vitamins on the market ARE synthetic, so no surprise there.

But, do we really all love synthetic vitamins so much that we’d come to their defense?

I may be wrong, but don’t most of us focus on trying to 1) eat whole foods and 2) consume and market at least partially whole food/natural vitamins or supplements?

Seems to me that this study can be used, regardless of its flaws (ALL studies have flaws) to support a move AWAY from synthetic vitamins TOWARDS whole food/natural ones, like those most of you market, yes?

YEP, the little start up I am part of markets one of those. So do others, e.g. Juice Plus. Don’t most of you market whole food/natural type supplements?

So why get excited about studies that show synthetic vitamins don’t do much good?

Who cares? Most of those are made by big companies, too. They’re not “natural” anyway.

Isn’t this like good cholesterol/bad cholesterol?

Why not use such reports to promote whole food supplements like those you market, instead?

While there may not be large scale studies on many of them yet, at least they are of the same world viewpoint as whole food based eating – versus fake foods and food-like substances – they’re whole food based supplements.


P.S. Speaking of whole food based daily supplements, there’s a fairly new one on the market at natural food stores – Alive. Not a bad product at all. People are getting it. Natural whole-food-based is in – and synthetic is out. That is, for those of us who care about such things in the first place.

About the author

Kim Klaver


  • Kim you are 100% right. Yesterday I got wrapped up in thinking about how the public would react to a study about vitamins being harmful, when I should have looked at it as a way to help spread the word about safe vitamins. I did change my way of thinking after reading many comments about this report. I can’t believe how wrapped up I got in the Wrong message, at least it was wrong for me.

    Anyway, I did a blog post about this study and focused on helping people know what ingredients are safe. Oh and yes I do market the Are Your Vitamins Safe? report and the whole food multi so I wrote how I’ve know about these studies for a while and gave the link to the report. Today I got a new customer (4boxes) and a new affiliate. I know it was beacause the blog post I wrote was not defensive, it was offering information.

    It will be a challenege but now I will try to go with what’s in my heart and mind not just what I read.


  • Kim: As a Nurtrilite user/distributor, I think that your comments are most cogent. A colleague of mine in the sanitation field relates how many of the synthetic vitamins that he finds in what he pumps out of spetic tanks, not only unabosorbed, but wholly undigested! Natural is the way to go!

  • Lyndon Johnson said, “In politics chicken sh*t can turn into chicken soup over night.”

    The same is true for publicity. Personally, I would welcome this attack if I sold health products.

    It gives you the opp to start a discussion with potential customers.

  • Greg –
    Yesterday I read the same thing online about the synthetic vitamins in septic tanks. This makes me even more concerned about the soil quality, our trees, wildlife, pets, birds and everything else.


  • You are correct Kim, but then Dr Myron Wentz – Founder and Scientist behind USANA has been promoting this message for about 20 years!

    The sad truth is – The VAST majority of people who hear that message do NOT take action to benefit from it.

    But here again they also do not take heed of the ‘far more threatening’ message that the Drug companies and (Government approved) health establishments are responsible for more premature deaths than every other cause (war, road/home/flying/gun accidents etc) put together!

    So my message is – Don’t stress out over the ‘Unbelievers’ or those who don’t listen – just look after yourself and set a good example and then – maybe? – some will eventually get the correct message!

  • Robin – You write:

    “Yesterday I read the same thing online about the synthetic vitamins in septic tanks.”

    What’s the reference for that?

    Any pictures?

  • Hi Kim
    You said “Why don’t we use reports to promote whole food supplements like those we market”and I agree there probably aren’t large scales done on many of them. However Shaklee Corp did an independent 20year study thru the University of Calif at Berkley.Gladys Block,PhD renowned researcher and professor at UCBerkely helped lead the research team in its efforts to conduct the first of its kind study . As a Shaklee distributor, we are proud of this study as it gives definite proof that Shaklee whole food supplements promote health.

  • Kim and all,

    Again, the ‘study’ you’re talking about was not a ‘study’ at all, but a biased analysis of many studies. Anytime you start with over 16000 studies and exclude all but 68, your analysis can be questionable.

    I am not saying this in support of “synthetic” vitamins, but in support of scientific validity (rather than cherry-picking for the results you’d prefer.)

    I am a strong supporter of whole foods-based diets and nutritional products. Even so, I suggest that the authors of this paper have taken a research method that is poorly tailored for the field to be studied, and saying their results prove their point that ‘vitamins don’t work or are even dangerous’.

    I can prove that penicillin is useless in the treatment of pneumonia by including in my study only patients with pneumonias caused by penicillin-resistant bacteria. Would my results be correct, or skewed?

    Perhaps the collective studies are pointing to something we need to explore further: whether whole-food supplements can truly be shown to surpass ‘synthetic’ ones in absorption, use by the body, effectiveness, and safety. I think this is probably true and can be accomplished, but it will take time and a lot of money. For my own personal use, I bypassed large scale studies and am simply going with what makes me feel better.

    Regarding the pollution of our waterways with drugs and hormones, this is an established fact — and it’s not just vitamins that are problematic. For anyone interested, Teleosis Institute ( is creating medicine take-back programs so people stop flushing their unused medicines and vitamins into the water supply. Unfortunately, water purification doesn’t eliminate peed-out drugs and drug metabolites. Great news: we’re all getting our daily Prozac and saving $$$ on prescriptions. 🙂

    Speaking of excretion: As medical residents, we often joked about “bedpan bullets”. This was a euphenism for undigested vitamins and other medications found amidst other bedpan contents. The worst offenders seemed to be those with shiny coatings, such as Centrum. No, I don’t have photographs, unfortunately.

    Regarding whether “most people focus on trying to

    1) eat whole foods and

    2) consume and market at least partially whole food/natural vitamins or supplements?”

    I would say definitely not. Many people want to take a pill rather than worrying about ‘greens’ because they feel they’re too much trouble or they don’t like them. I heard this from a patient just the other day. Whether most people at NMC identify with #2, you’d have to poll them to know.

    At the nutrition conference I mentioned last night, a Juice Plus representative promoted her products as “replacements” for eating greens and fruits. This happened at the lunch table, where we were served delicious and lovingly prepared organic food. I couldn’t imagine how any desiccated capsule (even the one I love and market) could possibly replace what we were eating. Fresh mango sorbet, for pete’s sake!! I enjoyed my “Pops” in addition to this — not as a replacement for it.

    Best wishes to all,

  • Dear Kim and Readers,

    Our brain may tell our hand and our mouth what we are going to eat for breakfast, but does our brain tell each of the trillions of cells we are made of what they are having for lunch. We have heard that fish is good brain food, but what should we be feeding to our liver and pancreas?

    My point is that all nutrition takes place at the cellular level not in our mouths. The blood stream is the conduit to carry the essential micro-nutrients to every cell in our bodies. Water soluble or fat soluble, the stuff has to pass through the cell membrane.

    We can choose to swallow Wal-Mart quality and excrete it wholly undigested or partially digested; but worse is that we may have introduced toxins to our blood stream that can go door-to-door knocking on the cell membranes.

    If we could observe cellular nutrition taking place through powerful microscopes we could learn so much. (I personally know of one scientist that has done that for over two decades.) We could see the damaging and deadly effects of toxins and free-radicals on the cellular components. We could see which substances are welcomed in by the cells and which are blocked.

    I have been in the midst of this whole food verses synthetic vitamin debate since 1972. Of course back then the phrase whole food was not used, it was ‘natural’. My beloved wife reminds me from time to time that none of us our going to make it out of this life alive. Don’t misunderstand me; I am a huge fan of prevention. When it comes to water filtration, I have heard it said that any filter is better than no filter and this was from a major manufacturer. Can we say that any vitamin is better than no vitamin? Evidently not. If the vitamin or supplement is introducing toxins or harmful substances into our blood stream, we would be better off without it. That substance could be from a laboratory synthesis, a pesticide residue on a whole food, or a cleaning solvent remnant on the processing equipment.

    I could say a lot more here, but Kim stated it is a matter of personal belief. Remember scientists and doctors are human, too. They have core values, bias, prejudice, agendas, and opinions. Equally great authorities can differ enormously. As marketers and hopefully users as well, we have to be convinced. Ideally not just by company propaganda, but our own personal experience. In this thread and yesterday’s I have noticed the favorable mention of two product lines. Both of those lines would not be technically considered whole food by some of our readers. Is natural equal to whole food? What on earth is natural any way ?

    Where is my microscope?

    Tom Doiron

  • I had a feeling people wouldn’t read through all the information and instead see it as an attack on their livelihoods. I was just waiting for the “flap” to happen.

    Natural and whole foods have always been the best way to go. Personally, I think those who are still involved in marketing chemical (er, uh, synthetic) vitamins should be ashamed, as it’s already cheaper to eat unhealthy foods vs. healthy foods. Eating healthy has been proven over and over to be more expensive, so those who are marketing synthetic garbage “just for the money” are charlatins, at best, and continuing to hurt the public by overpromising health but underdelivering, and wasting consumers’ money that could be better spent on obviously healthier alternatives.

    Scary thought:
    Year 2010 headline…
    “Vitamins on ValuMart shelves contain recycled ‘bowl ringers’!”

    Maypril 8, 2010
    Bowlus, Town of Flush
    John Smeller, reporting

    “Front company WasteGreen, (fictitious company for this comment, my apologies if such a company exists) which claims it is cleaning human waste material for a greener earth, is actually doing nothing more than buying waste containing undigested synthetic vitamins, and recycling them into new bottles of undigestable “vitamins” found on shelves everywhere…”


    Hmmmm, yeah, I go with natural and whole foods any day, thank you very much.

    For those who can’t think for themselves, THINK – there is always opportunity in every perceived difficulty. It’s our jobs to find that opportunity and present it to our customers.

    May you all be fantastically blessed.

  • Kim here’s the Reference for the septic tank story.

    “Absorption is the key to everything. How much you swallow means very (VERY) little. Dr. Jonathan Wright was informed by a patient who was a septic tank cleaner that many septic tanks of ‘pill-poppers’ have layers of pills at the bottom, a clear example of taking something that went on through and was never absorbed.


  • I, too, have read several articles about finding pills in the places you’ve mentioned. Not strange to me that it’s never reported in mainstream media.

    For those of us who eat organic drug-free,foods and understand the importance of them, I wonder if you’re also aware of a bill in US Congress…the new Farm Bill. A
    one week extension has just been given to the existing farm bill. The new deadline is next Friday.
    There has been little or no compromise to date, but part of that bill will decrease funding to
    the organic farmers who might not be able to stay in business risking buy outs by the powerful
    growers who don’t care what they feed us. Sign the letter being sent to Congress asking them protect the organic and small farms. You can add your personal message as well. Here’s the petition site……..

  • I haven’t read the actual study yet, and I prefer to read actual studies rather than abstracts or a media based summary, which so often gets it wrong, but there is one thing the study gets wrong which many other folks get wrong as well, conflating betacarotene with Vitamin A.

    Betacarotene is not vitamin A but rather a precursor to vitamin A. As such betacarotene must be converted by your body into vitamin A. For most people, especially those with less than optimal digestion (which is probably most folks in the west) the conversion rate is piss poor, something like 12:1 on average.

    Thus most people are not getting the amount of vitamin A advertised in their multi, and thereby aren’t getting enough vitamin A period.

    Below follows a lenghty except from an article that sheds much light on the subject:

    Unfortunately, the vast majority of popular books on nutrition insist that humans can obtain vitamin A from fruits and vegetables. Even worse, FDA regulations allow food processors to label carotenes as vitamin A. The label for a can of tomatoes says that tomatoes contain vitamin A, even though the only source of true vitamin A in the tomatoes is the microscopic insect parts. The food industry, and the lowfat school of nutrition that the industry has spawned, benefit greatly from the fact that the public has only vague notions about vitamin A. In fact, most of the foods that provide large amounts of vitamin A—butter, egg yolks, liver, organ meats and shellfish—have been subject to intense demonization.

    Under optimal conditions, humans can indeed convert carotenes to vitamin A. This occurs in the upper intestinal tract by the action of bile salts and fat-splitting enzymes. Of the entire family of carotenes, beta-carotene is most easily converted to vitamin A. Early studies indicated an equivalency of 4:1 of beta-carotene to retinol. In other words, four units of beta-carotene were needed to produce one unit of vitamin A. This ratio was later revised to 6:1 and recent research suggests an even higher ratio.5 This means that you have to eat an awful lot of vegetables and fruits to obtain even the daily minimal requirements of vitamin A, assuming optimal conversion.

    But the transformation of carotene to retinol is rarely optimal. Diabetics and those with poor thyroid function, a group that could well include at least half the adult US population, cannot make the conversion. Children make the conversion very poorly and infants not at all — they must obtain their precious stores of vitamin A from animal fats6— yet the low-fat diet is often recommended for children. Strenuous physical exercise, excessive consumption of alcohol, excessive consumption of iron (especially from “fortified” white flour and breakfast cereal), use of a number of popular drugs, excessive consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids, zinc deficiency and even cold weather can hinder the conversion of carotenes to vitamin A,7 as does the lowfat diet.

    Carotenes are converted by the action of bile salts, and very little bile reaches the intestine when a meal is low in fat. The epicure who puts butter on his vegetables and adds cream to his vegetable soup is wiser than he knows. Butterfat stimulates the secretion of bile needed to convert carotenes from vegetables into vitamin A, and at the same time supplies very easily absorbed true vitamin A. Polyunsaturated oils also stimulate the secretion of bile salts but can cause rapid destruction of carotene unless antioxidants are present.

    It is very unwise, therefore, to depend on plant sources for vitamin A. This vital nutrient is needed for the growth and repair of body tissues; it helps protect mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, throat and lungs; it prompts the secretion of gastric juices necessary for proper digestion of protein; it helps to build strong bones and teeth and rich blood; it is essential for good eyesight; it aids in the production of RNA; and contributes to the health of the immune system. Vitamin-A deficiency in pregnant mothers results in offspring with eye defects, displaced kidneys, harelip, cleft palate and abnormalities of the heart and larger blood vessels. Vitamin A stores are rapidly depleted during exercise, fever and periods of stress. Even people who can efficiently convert carotenes to vitamin A cannot quickly and adequately replenish vitamin A stores from plant foods.

  • The news is all over the internet now, citing the flawed research that this so-called “Scientific study” used. The Life Extension Foundation wrote the best so far! Here is their summary:
    This negative report attacking supplements is fatally flawed because it:

    1. Omitted 91% of the studies that measured the effects of these vitamins on human subjects including ALL studies for which there was NO mortality!

    2. Included studies that used doses far BELOW or far ABOVE what health conscious people actually use.

    3. Chose to bias the reporting of the results by emphasizing one type of statistical model that showed a significant effect rather than another statistical model that did not show a significant effect.

    4. Failed to account for the 14 mechanisms involved in aging and premature death.

    Re: Whole food supplements:
    Kim, no disrespect meant, but I’d like to hear how you define “natural.” The way I see it is anything you can squeeze into a little capsule is no longer natural. If it was, it would mold, rot, or otherwise disintegrate. It has to have something in it to keep it fresh.

    From my studies what is more important is to be pharmaceutical grade, balanced, and optimal doses, based on sound research. And there have been thousands supporting supplements being a benefit to health!

  • Carol: You wrote:

    “Re: Whole food supplements:
    Kim, no disrespect meant, but I’d like to hear how you define “natural.” The way I see it is anything you can squeeze into a little capsule is no longer natural. If it was, it would mold, rot, or otherwise disintegrate. It has to have something in it to keep it fresh.”

    Loosely speaking, so we don’t have to write 100 pages here, a natural ingredient is one where nutrients have not been isolated or synthetically manufactured.

    Re the molding or rotting question –
    You don’t need artificial preservatives to keep a “natural ingredient” from rotting or molding if it’s dehydrated. For example, spices and dried fruit on your shelf, or, the ingredients in the Pops (the whole food multi offered by Whole Food Nation of which I am part owner).

    Re your preference for pharmaceutical grade:

    No problem. “Pharmaceutical grade” gives the public insurance that whatever is on the label is what they are getting.

    However, there are two independent, national nonprofit organizations that do the same thing for supplements – the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) and NSF International. The Pops manufacturer has earned the “A” rating from these organizations.

    I mention the Pops here because I’m assuming you are asking about them as regards to “natural” but any supplement that meets these characteristics would be “natural” if it met the above criteria.

    Hope that helps.

  • There was a company that was mentioned here that has done a 20 year study on their nutritionals. I am a representative of this company and now questioning their vitamins and nutritional line. It actually has made me question the whole company, business, and fact that I am representing them.
    First off, you mention somewhere to look on the back of our vitamin bottle or box and see what the ingredients are. I thought oh my vitamins are not synthetic, our company claims to be all natural. But I looked and many of the ingredients you mention that are synthetic are right there listed as ingredients. I was very shocked and wondered what are company is doing. I also noticed how many questionable ingredients are in are so called Mineral Make-up, Shampoos, Lotion, etc. One thing is the fact that some of our products does not list the ingredients at all, they just list what they don’t have and that their natural and non-toxic.

  • I posted previously on the flawed nature of the quoted research, but I just wanted to add a question.

    Sure, it makes sense that “natural” would be better, but what makes sense is not always what is accurate. For example it makes no “Sense” that something as large as a huge airplane can fly. However, when you understand the science behind it, it makes perfect sense!

    Kim, (or anyone,) can you please point me to the research that shows that “natural” vitamins are ALWAYS better?

    My understanding is that some nutrients are better natural (ie. vitamin E), however, others (ie. Folic Acid) are more bio-available than theIR natural formS. That is what the scientists at Usana say, anyway. They always use natural nutrients when it is more beneficial and synthetic when not.

    Remember, this is coming from the guy who knows how to “keep human cells alive in the lab indefinitely, without signs of degeneration.”

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