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Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest For Nutritional Perfection Hardcover – February 24, 2015
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This is a fun read -- unless you happen to be a pill-popper and eat your sandwiches on gluten-free bread. As an evangelical foodie, you will not like to look at these facts and laugh with your fellow faddists. In fact, I would bet that the vitamanians are lining up for the talk-show circuit already. There is something about us that WANTS to believe that life can be cured with a pill. Popeye had it right: Eat your spinach and love your Olive Oil.
Price’s book is nearly a perfect example of popular science writing. She wrote with élan throughout. That included some sensible humor at just the right time. Her prose was skeptically reasoned. Her research significant and found in the text itself but also in the appendices. It included a glossary that took a significant number of pages to complete. It would be rash to read the book and skip the appendices. It also provided an excellent science history naming the players and describing the events that led us to our current state of nutrition and the chemistry of it.
Prior to getting into details a disclaimer is required. Most every stake that she laid was already believed in these quarters. Food and its science along with diet quackery is something that I continually research. In fact I even did an ad hoc study that was for my amusement several years ago. I went to health food and nutrition stores with a list of questions that I posed the clerk. They all had to do with supplements and vitamins. The specifics are lost to history but they were something like “which of these different brands of St. John’s Wort” is better?” “What are some of the possible interactions that one pill could have with another?” “Can you overdose on a supplement or vitamin?”
What became clear was that the clerks were trained at selling the store’s products, but did not have product knowledge. I asked the same questions of pharmacists and they were more specific about potential issues that could arise. Sometimes they responded with enthusiasm but some redirected me away from these “natural” or “holistic” products and towards my doctor. I had anticipated the duality of responses from these two demographics and I got it.
Price also suggested something else that is part of my dietary plan. That is to eat food that is lesser processed and get our vitamins from them. The body can handle “too much” spinach in its natural form. Michael Pollan suggested that when we shop for groceries that we ought to make our purchases only from the periphery aisles and skip the interior. It seems that Price would concur with that suggestion.
So my disclaimer is to indicate that prior to picking Vitamania up I already had the same mindset. I was already in her camp but still learned much from the book. Initially it is her timeline of our nutrition history that was a value add. It is very informative for the historian and puts much in perspective.
Price defined several very important parts of what a vitamin is. First and foremost is that science has yet to accurately clarify the details of the benefits of vitamins. There is a world of unknown out there. Then she gave clear descriptions of the thirteen vitamins that we do need and why we need them. She described the diseases that result from nutrient deficiencies and issues that could arise by overuse of some solutions.
Then she goes into quite a long story about supplements and the chicanery involved in that realm. Neither the industry nor the FDA even test them prior to getting them to the shelves. Humans have to begin suffering prior to any action being taken. The health food industry is free from the strictures of regulation essentially. Were the pharmaceutical industry to put a product out without knowing the potential consequence of their product they would suffer huge financial losses when things go south. Not so for herbal and holistic supplements
This is due to several laws enacted by some of the conservative icons of the US Senate. Orrin Hatch has greased the tubes for the “Holistic” industry which is very large in his Utah. The logic in his speeches has been that people have a right to use supplements and regulation would constrict the rights of citizens. With that, the supplement industry has been free to use false advertising and to even sell products that have none of the ingredients that are on their label. There is no bar for quality control. Many studies have shown this to be true and Price cites several of them.
The supplemental industry is as large as the demonized “Big Pharma” and it has as much avarice as any big business. Despite new age and hippy styled, advertising there is nothing particularly good, healthy or moral about the products. Their adverts make it appear that they are such though.
Yet it is not all their fault though. They may falsely advertise with the assistance of legislators who limit the regulation of supplements. It would not happen if people used some analytical thinking and approached what they ingest with some skepticism. As long as people buy the product, the longer the industry will thrive. Supplements are not alternatives to prescribed medicine. Price suggests we get the vitamins we need by maintaining a healthy diet of food and I agree wholeheartedly. Supplements are snake oil.
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