Multivitamin use is a great way to compensate for vitamins and minerals missing from your diet.
Naturally, they're not a substitute for a healthy, varied diet, but depending on your age and overall health, they can be an excellent addition to your daily routine.
But, exactly how are multivitamins made?
We went deep into the vitamin manufacturing phase -- let’s find out how they are made.
Where Are Vitamins Sourced?
Strictly synthetic supplements can be procured from plant or animal products or produced synthetically in a laboratory through chemical reactions.
To put it simply, vitamin A can be derived from fish liver oil synthesized from acetone, while vitamin C can be derived from citrus fruits or rose hips or synthesized from keto acid.
It's easy for vitamin producers to synthesize materials for commercially available vitamin supplements since the raw materials are more readily available than their natural counterparts.
"When people think of drugs, most think "artificial." When people think of vitamin supplements, most think "natural." But both drugs and vitamin supplements can be artificial or natural. Many vitamin supplements produced today are artificial." — Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, RD, RYT, CSCS.
However, it’s essential that you know there’s no chemical difference between the purified vitamins manufactured from plant or animal sources and those produced synthetically.
Does the Manufacturing Process Differ with Each Type?
No matter the type of vitamin or whether you use chemical or natural raw materials, the vitamin manufacturing process is the same .
For example, manufacturing a vitamin C supplement and manufacturing vitamin D3 supplements is almost identical.
The only difference is the raw material used and the delivery format – vitamin powder or vitamin tablets. But, the core vitamin production process is the same.
How to Manufacture Vitamins
Depending on the vitamin the producer is trying to make, the raw materials differ, but the process is always the same. It involves the following ten steps:
First, vitamin manufacturers have to decide on the appropriate doses of raw material ingredients and deliver an evidence-based supplement backed by structural and functional claims.
Then, the manufacturers have to obtain high-quality raw materials and other ingredients from vendors.
The other elements typically include essential substances such as binders, fillers, flow agents, etc.
They also differ depending on whether the finished synthetic vitamins come in the form of a powder, capsule, or tablet.
Raw material vendors should provide the manufacturer with a Certificate of Analysis that states the material's content and purity.
Most producers making synthetic vitamins check the raw materials themselves or send them to an independent laboratory for third-party testing.
On the other hand, to produce natural vitamin supplements using herbs, the material has to be sampled for identity and potency, possible bacterial contamination, and heavy metal content.
Raw materials for nutritional supplements typically arrive in the form of fine powder and may not even require preliminary processing.
However, if the ingredients aren’t pulverized, they need to go through a mill and ground.
Some raw vitamins arrive pre-blended complete with a filler ingredient such as microcrystalline cellulose or maltodextrin to produce a more even granule that makes the following processing steps even easier.
If lab technicians get some new ingredients, they may create test batches to see if pre-blending is needed.
When it comes to vitamin tablets, particle size is essential in determining how well the vitamin mixture will run through the tableting machine.
If the distributors send the raw vitamins milled to the appropriate size for tableting, then the wet granulation step isn't required for the manufacturing process.
But, if that's not the case, lab techs mix the fine vitamin powder with different cellulose particles, make the mixture wet, and then dry it in a dryer.
There may be a possibility that the dry mix will be in chunks, and the lab techs will need to run it through a mill to ensure that it's appropriately sized.
Weighing and Mixing
Once the vitamin ingredients are ready, they should be weighed out on a scale and the required weights of each element listed down on a formula batch record.
After weighing, the formula is placed in a mixer for about 15–30 minutes.
After the mixing, samples are taken from different sides of the mixer and examined to ensure even distribution and proportion of the ingredients.
In the case of making a large batch, laboratory technicians check the first three or four slots in the mixer and then re-check them periodically.
Once the batch has been approved, it’s moved to an encapsulating machine and put into a hopper.
First, lab techs run a test batch through the encapsulating machine, ensuring that the capsules are of proper and consistent weight, and then they compress the finished vitamin mixture into tablets.
Sometimes the tablets get a coating or get encapsulated in preformed gelatin capsules. This depends entirely on the brand owner’s requirements.
Finally, the vitamin capsules are checked visually for dimpling and splitting. If the test batch gives good results, the entire batch goes through the same process.
Polishing and Inspection
The finished vitamin capsules circulate on a belt through some soft brushes that wipe out any remaining dust or vitamin powder from the capsule exterior.
Once the polishing is done, the capsules are transferred to the inspection table with a belt of rotating rods.
The vitamins fall in the grooves between the rods and rotate as the rods turn, allowing the inspector to see the vitamin capsule from all sides.
Then the inspector discards any capsule that's too long, split, dimpled, or otherwise defective.
The following step starts with a rotating table fitted with holes on its outer edges and holds proper dies — the shape of the tablet.
Powdered synthetic vitamin from the filling station fills the die, the table rotates, the filled die moves into a punch press, and the powder is compressed into a compact tablet.
The rotation speed of the table determines the number of tablets made in a minute.
Once compressed, the tablets are then ejected onto a vibrating belt to remove any loose or remaining dust.
The solid tablets are then taken to a coating pan surrounded by 1–6 spray guns and operated by pumps. The pumps spray the coating over the tablets as they rotate in the pan.
Packaging and Labeling
Finally, capsules and coated vitamin tablets go through a row of machines that count the required number of capsules or tablets per bottle.
The capsules or tablets then fall into a bottle that is passed to the next machine.
The next machine then seals, caps, labels, and shrink-wraps the bottles.
Each bottle is labeled according to its contents, expiration date, and recommended usage information.
The finished bottles are then set in boxes and ready to be shipped.
Lab technicians conduct quality control at many stages of the vitamin manufacturing process to ensure only the highest quality supplements are produced.
All vitamin tablets or capsule ingredients are checked for identity and potency before being used.
Typical steps taken during the quality control process include:
- Adhering to strict testing procedures
- Detailed testing for ingredient purity and contaminants
- Comprehensive monitoring schedules
- Chemistry-based laboratory analyses
- Ensuring compliance with good manufacturing practices (GMPs)
Other popular questions about vitamins:
Final Thoughts On The Vitamin Manufacturing Process
Because of the incredibly intricate vitamin manufacturing nature, a great number of brand owners prefer partnering up with experienced manufacturers who can guide them through every step of the manufacturing process.
The process usually takes 12–16 weeks for new orders or 8–12 weeks for existing and re-orders.
Whether you’re taking natural or synthetic nutrients or antioxidant supplements, this process is what most manufacturers follow.
Have you had any negative experience with your vitamins? Do you think the manufacturing process affect the quality of synthetic and natural nutrients?