One of my favorite moments in all of The Big Bang Theory is when Sheldon describes taking a lot of health supplements as a recipe for very expensive urine. He is absolutely right. Most of the vitamins and other supplements people take are not only useless, some may actually do considerable harm. Excessive doses of beta-carotene (Vitamin A) can increase the risk of smokers of getting lung cancer. The ultimate risk-taker might be someone who chain smokes while popping Vitamin A tablets and skis down a hill blindfold.
Yet the supplement industry continues to grow at an amazing rate (roughly at the speed of the Brazilian economy – 6 % a year) and has now reached $34 billion in the United States alone. People who routinely decry Big Pharma see no problem in spending huge amounts of money in so called ‘natural health’ stores. They take vitamins and minerals and various pernicious weeds and not only claim their miraculous benefits but deny that it could ever do any harm. It’s a grassroots business they claim – connected directly to Mother Earth. Grassroots? $34 billion? I’m experiencing a cognitive dissonance. As I’ve said before, if alternative medicine can be proven to work, it is medicine. Otherwise it is bunk (though it might produce placebo effects).
I have no problem with people spending their money any way they like. But it is phenomenally annoying when they adopt a holier than thou attitude about it. You don’t see smokers and drinkers do that, do you? How often have you heard me tell someone with a cold, they should drink bourbon? A lot less than I get told I should take XYZ ‘magical remedy.’ To tell you the truth, alternative medicine fanatics sometimes display the same proselytizing zeal as annoying and blank-eyed folks who come to your door on Saturday morning asking if you’ve found Jesus yet.
Still, it is a concern when the same people who peddle this snake-oil to gullible, though apparently well-educated, individuals begin to make pronouncements about vaccines – pushing useless nosodes while claiming vaccines are poisonous. Personally I think they should be held accountable for measles outbreaks but, hey, live and let live, right? Well, except for the kids they kill.
It’s not that some supplements aren’t required for people who have specific medical conditions. B-12 is an important treatment of pernicious anemia, for example. But in all those cases, there is sound scientific evidence proving their effectiveness.
All the rest is just people trying to make money.
And that’s ten minutes. From my sick bed.