Book Review: Vitamania
Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection
By Catherine Price
There are 85,000 dietary supplements on the market, and more than 50 percent of Americans take at least one of them. This means an awful lot of people will read Catherine Price’s compelling new book—and flinch.
Vitamania is a levelheaded look at America’s obsession with, and naiveté on, the subject of vitamins. Price covers the discovery of vitamins and the fact that despite a century of study, we still don’t fully understand how they function in our bodies.
In developing countries, vitamin deficiencies cause an appalling array of diseases, such as beriberi (caused by a lack of thiamin) or blindness, from vitamin A deficiency. Lest we get smug about providing nutritional support to the Third World, Price points out that Americans need vitamins just as desperately: Our diets are filled with foods that have been enriched to add back the micronutrients destroyed during processing.
While Americans swallow pills to be healthy, we’re actually in the dark about what we’re consuming, reveals Price. Manufacturers are not required to study the effects of supplements, how they work, or their long-term effects. There simply is no FDA approval process for supplements.
Certainly, Price reports, some supplements are safe, but others are completely ineffective, and still others are adulterated with dangerous substances.
The hard truth is, if a company wants to sell a new pharmaceutical or food additive, it must invest years of research and millions of dollars and produce thousands of pages of documentation. But if that same product is marketed as a supplement, no testing is required.
This book had me pulling bottles out of my cabinets and reading labels, because the bottom line is that we are the only ones who can take responsibility for what goes into our mouths. And without a chemistry degree, I’m not sure that’s a responsibility I want.