Vitamins -- organic compounds essential in a healthy diet -- maintain your general health. There are three major ways to consume vitamins: pharmaceutical-grade, prescription vitamins; general vitamin supplements, sometimes called whole food vitamins; and foods that naturally contain vitamins. While any vitamin supplement has potential benefits and drawbacks, pharmaceutical and whole food vitamins have different advantages and applications.
Differences in Regulation Levels
One of the major differences between pharmaceutical-grade vitamins and whole food vitamins is the level of government regulation of their manufacture and sale. Pharmaceutical-grade vitamins undergo stringent regulations by the Food and Drug Administration, and the pharmaceuticals undergo testing to monitor their contents, safety and efficacy. Whole-food vitamin supplements undergo regulation to ensure they cannot harm the general public, but do not undergo the same stringent regulation with respect to contents and efficacy. In addition, foods containing vitamins are monitored for their safety, but do not undergo strict regulation with respect to vitamin level and efficacy. You can learn more about the specific testing standards for pharmaceuticals and regular vitamin supplements at the FDA's web site.
Another major difference between pharmaceutical-grade and whole food vitamins are their ingredients. Pharmaceutical grade vitamins will often contain a relatively pure sample of active vitamins, allowing doctors to administer a very precise dosage of vitamin to meet a patient's needs. Whole food vitamins, on the other hand, may contain a less pure sample of vitamins, and might also contain beneficial additives, such as green tea extracts. Vitamins obtained from foods also come with other nutrients found in the food, such as sugars, proteins, other vitamins and minerals.
Benefit of Pharmaceutical-Grade Vitamins
In some cases, pharmaceutical-grade vitamins can prove superior to whole-food vitamins and general vitamin supplements. Consuming prescription-quality vitamins can prove useful for treating specific diseases, as the drug provides a dosage of vitamin without additives, which could affect the vitamin's function. For example, pharmaceutical-grade niacin proves more effective than general vitamin supplements in treating high cholesterol, according to a study published in "Post-Graduate Medicine" in 2011. If you require vitamins as a treatment for a specific disorder, talk to your doctor about the benefits of pharmaceutical-grade vitamins.
Benefit of Whole-Food Vitamins
In other cases, you can likely benefit more from the consumption of whole-food vitamins, through both general vitamin supplements and vitamin-containing foods. One of the major benefits of whole-food vitamins is the presence of other beneficial chemicals, and consuming your vitamins via a healthy, varied diet helps to ensure you also consume other essential nutrients, such as minerals and other phytochemicals. If you're looking to maintain good general health, you should consume a varied diet and boost your vitamin intake with a multivitamin. Always talk to your doctor before taking vitamin supplements to help determine an effective dosage for your needs.