Remember when you were told, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?” When did we start to substitute a pill for the apple? It seems that every tenth page of any magazine is a full-page ad for some vitamin or supplement. Is our diet so truly deficient that we need pills to make up for some sort of nutritional shortcoming?
Historically, we haven’t had enough good food to eat. Back before indoor plumbing, many people suffered from shortages of key vitamins. Sailors developed scurvy before they learned to bring limes with them. Beriberi racked the bodies of people with vitamin B1 deficiencies. Night blindness affected many people without enough vitamin A while rickets deformed children missing critical vitamin D.
The current age, though, has grocery stores teeming with nutritious food. Anyone who pays the slightest attention to eating a balanced diet will easily avoid diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies. So why do we believe that we need to take a vitamin pill every day? In a word: advertising.
But is taking a daily vitamin necessarily a bad thing? It can be! Unregulated nutritional supplements have been linked with a variety of health issues. Vitamin A has been linked to dramatic increases in lung cancer. Vitamins C and E are tied to intestinal cancer and beta carotene is tied to numerous issues that increase mortality.
Why is this? If a little vitamin C prevents scurvy, shouldn't a lot of vitamin C just be better all around? It seems that a steady diet of too much of many vitamins can actually shorten your life. Some studies have shown mortality rates rising as much as 40%. By throwing off the natural balance between anti-oxidants and oxidants, your body loses the ability to stop cellular abnormalities. That can lead to tissue damage, heart disease and cancer.
If you are eating well, skip that vitamin pill tomorrow morning. Your body will thank you.