The Vitamin Myth – a huge industry but all the evidence says don’t do it

Paul Offit in The Atlantic has a fascinating look at The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements. The short answer is Linus Pauling, super genius. He received two Nobel Prizes and every top honor in science for revolutionizing chemistry and practically inventing the field of molecular biology. And then at 65, after a glorious career he took up the cause of vitamin C and became “a quack.”

In 1970, Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, urging the public to take 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C every day (about 50 times the recommended daily allowance). Pauling believed that the common cold would soon be a historical footnote. “It will take decades to eradicate the common cold completely,” he wrote, “but it can, I believe, be controlled entirely in the United States and some other countries within a few years. I look forward to witnessing this step toward a better world.” Pauling’s book became an instant best seller. Paperback versions were printed in 1971 and 1973, and an expanded edition titled Vitamin C, the Common Cold and the Flu, published three years later, promised to ward off a predicted swine flu pandemic. Sales of vitamin C doubled, tripled, and quadrupled. Drugstores couldn’t keep up with demand. By the mid-1970s, 50 million Americans were following Pauling’s advice. Vitamin manufacturers called it “the Linus Pauling effect.”

The American public started downing vitamin supplements like candy, making them in the shapes of cartoon characters to give to their kids. Studies were done showing they were ineffective, at best, and some doctors advised their patients against taking them. But patients would reply: “do you have a Nobel prize?”

As studies kept disproving Pauling’s assertions, he would take it personally and double down endorsing new standards like taking huge amounts of vitamin C with huge amounts of vitamin A. Then, even as the medical community was still sceptical about its efficacy for common colds, Pauling did the ultimate double down and announced that mega doses of vitamin C could cure cancer.

In 1980 both he and his wife died of cancers. So that’s that, right?


Despite study after study that actually shows the people taking the vitamin supplements die quicker than the group NOT taking the vitamins, people are convinced they NEED vitamin supplements.

The logic is obvious: if fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants — and people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables are healthier — then people who take supplemental antioxidants should also be healthier.

In fact, they’re less healthy… 

Researchers have called this “the antioxidant paradox.” Whatever the reason, the data are clear: high doses of vitamins and supplements increase the risk of heart disease and cancer; for this reason, not a single national or international organization responsible for the public’s health recommends them.

But I should still take my vitamin D, right? 

Food Revolution Summit April 27-May 5

Looks like a great resource for nutrition news and apparently it’s all online.  So you can hear great speakers, learn stuff, be empowered to control your health and be sitting in your underwear on your couch.  What could be better?  

Go to and register to view talks by great food people like Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Mark Hyman, Mayor Cory Booker, Mark Bittman (NY Times), Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  Sustainability, nutrition, healthy eating, growing, the whole shmear.

I wrote “shmear”. Makes me think of bagels. NO BAGELS! I’ll go get a salad, don’t worry I’ll get over it. 

Totally and Unexpectedly Inspired by “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” Doc

Watched this on Netflix on Saturday, did not know what to expect, the wife just had a feeling and we were totally inspired by this very engaging Australian’s saga of losing weight and “rebooting” his health by going on an epic 60 day juice fast. Not sure how he stayed strong because he often went into restaurants to talk to folks who were gorging on food that smelled good through the screen.  

Then when he had lost 82 pounds, and the film seemed over, a great success story, a massive truck driver he had met along the way in NM calls him and asks him for help.  This guy is 429 pounds with one foot in the grave. Our hero sets him up with a juicer and the truck driver changes his life too.

The film itself is too long, yes. But you will root the whole way for these people to get control of their health. The message of juice fasting struck home with us.


Remember when Greek yogurt took over? Get ready for Greek Coffee

Yeah, Greek yogurt is still a mystery. When I first noticed the cafe refrigerator cases filling up with this new product I asked a legitimate Greek-American (1st generation, she speaks Greek and goes back there often) “what the hell is Greek yogurt?” Her answer: “I don’t know.” So Greek yogurt is bullshit.

Now there’s this Greek coffee, not here yet, but it’ll get here if this study gets around. About .1% of Europeans make it to 90. On the Greek island of Ikaria 1% make it to the Naughty Nineties. Okay, that’s not seemingly that impressive, but it is a 10X higher concentration than the rest of Europe so to science guys it’s a big deal. One of the things they’re focusing on in their studies of these magic Nanogenarians (did I just conflate 90 year olds and nanotechnology?) is their consumption of Greek coffee.

Given our massive American health porn obsession (I want to live long and hard with no low T!) expect to see ads for Greek coffee and their special polyphenols and antioxidents any day now.  Cool for the Greek coffee cartel that America has been softened by a decade long campaign to educate us on these once exotic compounds. Something you once found on the vitamin label you never read, now it’s on almost all your unread food labels.

The only downside of this miracle Greek coffee that keeps you alive longer (but destroys bond markets? have they looked into it’s correlation with fiscal chaos?) is that it has only moderate caffeine levels, whereas Americans bless their ever pumping hearts, like their caffeine levels at flood stage.