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Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest For Nutritional Perfection Hardcover – February 24, 2015

3.9 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The New York Times:
"[An] absorbing and meticulously researched history of the beginnings and causes of our obsession with vitamins and nutrition."

New York Times: 
“[An] absorbing and meticulously researched history of the beginnings and causes of our obsession with vitamins and nutrition.”

Wall Street Journal
“Behind the bizarre disconnect between rigorous drug regulation and a ‘whatever’ approach to dietary supplements are industry lobbying, Oz-like doctors and politicians on both sides of the aisle whose states benefit from the thousands of jobs provided by the multi-billion-dollar supplement industry. It is not a new story, but Ms. Price gives it a vigorous retelling. She also reminds us that the prophets of vitamania, and their political allies, would all be powerless if it were not for a peculiar kind of deficiency in ourselves that keeps us reaching for ‘a salve against uncertainty.’ Faced with such primal fears, it seems, science is powerless.” 

Scientific American "Food Matters"

“[Vitamania] is the surprisingly fascinating story of vitamins—their discovery, their functions in our bodies, and how they’ve been co-opted by an industry that has fostered a cultural infatuation with what we include, or fail to include, in our diets... I get sent a lot of books about food. I usually don’t write about them. Upon opening Vitamania I was pleased to find myself wanting to keep reading. It’s measured, funny, and fascinating. The only thing that Catherine Price is selling here is good reporting, engaging storytelling, and more than you thought you could possibly learn about vitamins. If you need vitamins to survive (you do), you should read this book.”

Boston Globe: 
"Catherine Price argues in this persuasive new book, the rise in our use of vitamins to fortify foods has coincided with a reliance on less nutritious foods generally, as well as a magical belief in the power of vitamins. By the 1930s, food and drink manufacturers had learned that vitamins were a big sell — even beer got into the act, briefly, with the 1936 product Schlitz Sunshine Vitamin D Beer... Price argues, our belief in the power of vitamins is quasi-religious. And like a religion, the power we feel they have reveals a lot about us, “about our hopes, about our fears, and about our desperate desire for control.” That human beings have been able to discover these 13 essential chemicals is a scientific triumph for sure, but she cautions against overreach — “we still don’t know how to reverse engineer perfect food. Nature is simply too complex.”


“[Price’s] investigation, full of scurvy-ridden sailors, questionable nutritional supplements and solid science, is both entertaining and enlightening.” 

Outside Magazine

“Catherine Price traces the long history of America’s love affair with vitamins… her chilling research about the barely regulated supplements marketplace will likely have you rethinking your morning multivitamin.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Price raises important questions about both supplements and vitamins, and if our government isn't asking them, at the very least, consumers must.” 

Library Journal

Entertaining and informative…An excellent addition to collections in public and consumer health libraries.”  

Booklist (starred review)
[A] hidden, many-faceted, and urgent story... A commanding, meticulously documented, and riling exposé rich in dramatic and absurd science and advertising history, lively profiles, and intrepid, eyebrowraising fieldwork…. Price’s sharp wit, skillful and vivid translation of science into story, and valiant inquisitiveness (she insists on tasting synthetic vitamins and gets buzzed on the military’s caffeinated meat sticks) make for an electrifying dissection of our vitamin habit in contrast to our irrevocable need for naturally nutrient-rich food.”

MARION NESTLE, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies,and Public Health at New York University; author of What to Eat
 “Catherine Price gives us a journalist’s entertaining romp through the fascinating history of the discovery of vitamins and their use and marketing as objects of health obsession. Faith in vitamins, she advises, should be tempered by scientific uncertainty and dietary complexity and the understanding that foods are better sources than pills.”

MICHELE SIMON, author of Appetite for Profit
Vitamania is a much-needed critique of the nation’s obsession with nutritional supplements. Price exposes the less-than-scientific roots of what has become a multibillion-dollar industry, along with the inadequate regulatory oversight that drives unsavory marketing practices. The book concludes with this refreshing advice: get your nutrition from eating real food.”

EMILY OSTER, author of Expecting Better
“This is a fascinating look at what we know—and mostly what we don’t —about vitamins. You’ll never look at a bottle of multivitamins the same way again.”

About the Author

CATHERINE PRICE is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, the New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men's Journal, PARADE Magazine, Health Magazine, and Outside.

@catherine_price #vitamania

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1 edition (February 24, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205043
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205040
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this well-researched and well-written book by Catherine Price. If you're looking for some amazing nutritional advice that will change your world and save your life, this isn't it. Her advice is: don't isolate your micronutrients, eat real food (not processed). Not exactly new advice. But that wasn't what she set out to do.

Price answers a lot of basic questions about vitamins. What are these things? What do they do for us? How were they discovered? How do they show up in our lives now, in our foods and elsewhere?

She also takes a few chapters to take a look at the supplement industry, an industry she claims (rightfully so, I think) the very idea of vitamins gave birth to. Without the idea of micronutrients that do unexpected things for our health, the supplement industry wouldn't exist. But she takes the time to explain that the supplement industry is unregulated for the most part, examine the political history of why that is (how it came to be), and the consequences of the lack of oversight. The supplement industry part of this book included details I hadn't known before, even though I knew some of the basic facts, and I appreciate learning about that history.

The most interesting and new part of the book for me was near the end, when Price discusses the unknowns of nutrition as they stand today. There's a heck of a lot we don't know. She gives some examples of how we know that our knowledge is incomplete, which I relished. For example, an apple's antioxidant activity is far higher than is possible with the antioxidants we've isolated and analyzed from the apple. So there's more going on there than we know of. Whole foods include nutrients, molecules, and interactions that are still far beyond our understanding.
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Format: Hardcover
Vitamins are so simple -- take a multivitamin once a day and forget about it. If you're happy with that no-brainer regimen, then don't read Vitamania. Whether you swear by supplements or are a supplement skeptic, you are bound to learn a lot from this book.

Vitamania reminded me of Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal in its disarmingly conversational style while digging up all the dirt on processed foods. But don't get the idea that Catherine Price isn't keeping her eye on the story -- she has done the research, the interviews, the follow-ups, and you come away realizing that we know an awful lot about vitamins. It's what we don't know (and what we think we know, but don't) that could be hurting us.

You may already know that the Food and Drug Administration is not responsible for certifying the safety of vitamins or supplements, which are neither food nor drug. There is no federal agency that tests the safety or effectiveness of vitamin supplements. Recent news stories reveal that many supplements are incorrectly labeled, containing fillers that are not listed on the bottle, and containing none of the advertised ingredients. While manufacturers are responsible for correctly labeling their products, they do not have to ensure the ingredients are effective or even safe. And they don't have to warn consumers that their products may interact with prescription and over-the-counter drugs to diminish the effect of the drug or to cause side effects.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a really cool entry in the food chain genre. If you like Michael Pollan, you're going to like this book. Just as Pollan pulled back the curtain on factory farming, Price takes a critical look at vitamins and how they've changed the way we eat and, ultimately, our health--both for the better and for the worse. The story of how scientists discovered vitamins, and how food manufacturers co-opted them, is surprisingly interesting (helps that the writer knows her stuff and is funny). I also like the fact that Price isn't just a hippie waving a carrot stick at you and scolding. In fact, one of my favorite sections is where she writes fairly and intelligently about Golden Rice, a genetically modified crop that has the potential to save thousands of lives in the developing world but which remains mired in the wider debate about GMOs. It's a smart and entertaining book for people who like to think about their food.
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Format: Hardcover
Every now and then a book is published that has a beneficial impact on its readers and on society in general. Ms. Spencer “Vitamania” is such a book. The treatise describes the real and imaginary nutritional benefits of vitamins and dietary supplements, and exposes the hazards of unregulated supplements and the consumption of megadoses of legitimate vitamins. The author’s work is based on extensive research of the scientific literature and interviews of scientists, practitioners and manufacturers; and is supported by extensive footnotes and bibliography.

About 60+ million Americans use dietary supplements or herbal remedies. Most of these are unregulated by the FDA and sold at ordinary health food stores across the country. Few people, however, understand the danger of these extracts interfering with their prescribed medications or during surgery. A “supplement” could change the rate at which a conventional drug is absorbed, distributed or eliminated by the body.

In my forty plus year career as a surgeon, one of my biggest concerns was to operate on individuals who neglected to disclose, pre-operatively, their consumption of dietary supplements. Studies show that about 70 percent of patients never tell their doctors what “herbal” supplements they take - because they do not consider them as drugs.
These preparations marketed under various names; as natural products, micronutrients, herbal supplements, antioxidants, alternative dietary supplements and vitamins - all have side-effects.
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