Once upon a time, people suffered from vitamin deficiencies which caused anemia, rickets, and other conditions we rarely hear about anymore. The truth is, the average modern American diet has the vitamins we need. However, half of all Americans take vitamin supplements. Research shows that they aren't necessary, and can actually shorten our lives. An article at the Atlantic cites many studies on vitamin supplements and their effects, but also contains the fascinating story of how we became so enamored with vitamin supplements. All it took was one man advocating their use, because that one man was the esteemed scientist and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling.
The turning point came in March 1966, when Pauling was 65 years old. He had just received the Carl Neuberg Medal. "During a talk in New York City," recalled Pauling, "I mentioned how much pleasure I took in reading about the discoveries made by scientists in their various investigations of the nature of the world, and stated that I hoped I could live another twenty-five years in order to continue to have this pleasure. On my return to California I received a letter from a biochemist, Irwin Stone, who had been at the talk. He wrote that if I followed his recommendation of taking 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C, I would live not only 25 years longer, but probably more." Stone, who referred to himself as Dr. Stone, had spent two years studying chemistry in college. Later, he received an honorary degree from the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic and a "PhD" from Donsbach University, a non-accredited correspondence school in Southern California.
Pauling followed Stone's advice. "I began to feel livelier and healthier," he said. "In particular, the severe colds I had suffered several times a year all my life no longer occurred. After a few years, I increased my intake of vitamin C to ten times, then twenty times, and then three hundred times the RDA: now 18,000 milligrams per day."
From that day forward, people would remember Linus Pauling for one thing: vitamin C.
Pauling's 1970 book about vitamin C was a bestseller, and kicked off the supplement craze. Add in consumers who want easy ways to make themselves healthier and suppliers who stand to make profits, and it's no wonder people buy so many supplements. Read more about it at the Atlantic. Link
(Image credit: Flickr user Ferenc Szutor)