People have depended on vitamin and mineral supplements for decades expecting positive health results. Vitamins have helped to virtually wipe diseases like scurvy and pellagra off the face of the earth, or, at least eradicate them in modernized countries. So, this must be a good thing, right? Not, so fast! Before you make a judgment call as to what is best for you to take, find a copy of Vitamania: our obssessive quest for nutritional perfection by Catherine Price. What she has to say may well change your mind. As a journalist, Price is used to delving into complicated subjects to get to the heart of the matter in an accessible manner. She does an admirable job presenting how important good nutrition and vitamins are to health but she also explains how supplements are used as a quick fix. Too often, when not eating a proper diet, people, especially Americans, may assume they can make up for their guilt and nutritional inadequacies by popping a pill. Price, while not denying the significance these supplements have had on the modern world, introduces some information that may make the reader uneasy.
For instance, many vitamins purchased in the U.S. are not developed or manufactured here. Most of them come from far-flung countries, especially China and Japan, but, because they are packaged here, we may incorrectly assume that the FDA determines what these pills contain.
It is disturbing, but hardly surprising, to learn that the FDA has little control over this industry even if the products are manufactured here. For decades, Congressional members from both parties have been swayed by lobbyists and large companies in their home states to ensure these health related businesses (which often help fund their reelections) receive little or no interference from the government. This is unfortunate for those consumers who assume any product that looks and sounds healthy actually is. While many pills are water-soluble and don’t build up in the body, there have been cases of other tainted pills causing great harm and even death. Our government is changing some oversight policies but is moving at its typical snail’s pace while consumers unwittingly ingest potentially harmful pills and companies make bigger and bigger profits.
Again, Price does not vilify all vitamins and supplements but reading her book will give you some idea of what to be aware of, what to look out for and what to consider before popping those daily pills so effortlessly. This is an important read for those who want to take more control of their own health.