Britain is in the middle of a health revolution. Over three hundred million pounds is spent every year on pills that some believe to be an amazing natural way to prevent, or even cure, some of the most deadly diseases out there. On a daily basis, millions take vitamin supplements, convinced of their power to keep them healthy.
However, scientists fear that for most people, there is absolutely no benefit of taking high dose vitamin supplements. At best, it is an expensive habit, and at worst, they could seriously affect your health. To gain some perspective, it is worthwhile to dig into the history of vitamins and their discovery.
A Simple History
In the 1930s, the height of medical knowledge revolved around disinfection. Certain medical conditions did not fit the mould, though. Take scurvy, for instance. Sailors on long voyages away from land would come down with debilitating symptoms that could not be attributed to any form of infection, for the symptoms would clear away as soon as the patient reached the shore and could be fed with fresh fruits and leafy vegetables.
Thus began the research into nutrition as a cause of disease, or rather, the lack of proper nutrition.
A Landmark Discovery
Just by making sure people ate the right vitamins, a whole string of what became known as deficiency diseases could be eradicated. Vitamin A, found in dairy products, liver and fish, prevents blindness and growth deformities. Vitamin C, from oranges and other citrus fruit, has all but eradicated scurvy. Vitamin D, abundant in fish, means children need no longer grow up with rickets. Scientists have found our food contained a cheap and simple way to end the suffering of millions of people around the world.
The discovery of vitamins was a major landmark in modern medicine. It was the first example where we learned that diseases may be caused not just by infectious agents but by the simple absence of a single substance from our diet, a vitamin.
Today, most of us take for granted a life free from the diseases caused by vitamin deficiency. Doctors now believe that a balanced diet, with a mix of fruits, vegetables, grains and fats, can give you the tiny amounts of vitamins needed to keep you in good health, they have called it the recommended daily allowance. Only in special cases, such as pregnancy, do doctors normally recommend taking higher doses of vitamins.
Too much of a Good Thing?
Has the pendulum swung to the other side? Have we elevated the money making aspect of medicine above its benefits? There seems to be an argument in support of this viewpoint. For while a multitude of people pop a potentially toxic cocktail of high potency vitamins everyday in the hope it will stave off diseases, there has simply not been enough research to either confirm or debunk their efficacy or safety.
Some have even been known to take high dosages of zinc and selenium in conjunction with garlic, vitamin E and other antioxidant combinations out of fear of developing cancer, instead of simply quitting cigarettes!
As with every discovery in the medical field, it seems for once the temptation of according ‘silver bullet’ (cure all and end all) status to vitamins should be avoided.
You can have too much of a good thing.