21 December 2007

Pointless pill popping

Hilary Swank swallows 45 food supplements every day ...

"This is my Aloe C," she began (Aloe C, as the name suggests, is a combination of Aloe Vera and vitamin C). "Here's my flax. This one's for my immune system. And this one is my BrainWave." BrainWave is designed to enhance mental function through a balance of "smart nutrients". It hasn't been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration in the US, but Swank is already convinced. "It's great, like if I have a lot of lines to memorise." Or a lot of pills to memorise, since she continues to rattle off a list of the 45 supplements she takes every day. "I just took my most important ones," she concluded, "which are my Oz Garcia Longevity Pak."

My god. There is no reason for this. Most people in the developed world get all the nutrients they need from their diet. Vitamins are usually excess and they simply get excreted. Any claim that a vitamin regiment will make you smarter, improve your memory or keep you from getting a cold is frail at best.

I take a multivitamin about three times a month, or one a day for about two days before I give blood to make sure my iron is high enough. I don't think it actually does much for me, just a little boost for anything I might be low on and nothing more.

There is evidence to suggest that nutrients in their natural state are more effective. "We know that fruit and vegetables can help protect against cancer," says Baic. "But remove the antioxidant ingredients from the food and just take them as supplements and they appear to have no benefits. The supplements we can buy are only the ones that have been identified as necessary - there are probably others [in food] we don't know about."

This goes back to the fact that we know about most vitamins because we know what happens when one is lacking from someone's diet. For all we know about biochemistry and nutrition in humans, its the subtle stuff we know less about. The subtle stuff might be the role of some chemical we don't know much about, or the way our bodies treat things differently if there is fiber as well as the vitamin.

So eat your vegetables before you worry about your vitamins.

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