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Vitameatavegemin “Medicine” Out of Hand ?

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Message Vin LoPresti
"You need plenty of Nicotinaminazingding for those kidneys. Studies have shown . . . ."

"And for you folks with low energy, getting at least double the recommended dose of Neptunium will surely get that thyroid humming again." (Especially after it zings out a few alpha particles and gamma rays).

And so they go -- from the late-night infomercials to the Sunday-morning, half-hour radio pitches to the solicitations in periodicals. In every case, the same message: lack of micronutrient "A" causes breakdown in organ "B"; deficiency of "C" a dysfunction in organ "D"; insufficiency of "E" a setback in organ "F."

Anything to sell you a bottle of "A," "B," or "C," while the truth, of course, is that the moment you isolate any organ or system, you're fabricating quite a biological fib -- practicing physiological isolationism, the worst kind of pseudoscience.

Now far be it from me to argue with some well-established scientific findings; like the value of omega-3 dietary fatty acids or the necessity for certain metal micronutrients -- like selenium -- whose value wasn't recognized when I was a kid.

But puulleeze, free-enterprise moguls, this mega-supplementation medicine-show has gotten just a little out of hand. When you begin to inject fear into consumers, then play on that fear in a patently unscientific way that integrates the components of human physiology far less well than the workings of a bicycle, you're stepping over the line.

It's a longstanding tradition dating way back to Doctor Zeke's traveling medicine show and parodied by the brilliant comedienne, Lucille Ball, in her classic Vitameatavegemin skit. But in an environment -- both external and internal -- already reeling under the stress of thousands of manufactured chemicals, some of whose ultimate fate and effect is untested and hence, unknown, isn't just a little reticence appropriate? Shouldn't we be at least a tad -- or more -- concerned about detoxifying our inner and outer environments, by comparison to further complicating matters by over-supplementing and dumping those excess personal care products to an already overburdened milieu?

Aside from the physiological fragmentation that this view suggests -- treating the body as a bunch of semi-isolated modules rather than as the genuine integrated innernet that it really is (see here ), this hyper-supplementation view neglects the fact that taking these "personal care products" in excess ends up with their excretion to the environment in urine & feces -- and in the trash of people who decide that a particular product isn't helping them. It's hardly an outcome that tends to be in the forefront of our individual and collective thinking.

A couple of recent studies are enlightening. A report released by the CDC documents levels of more than 100 toxic chemicals found in the bodies of Americans. In response, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) has issued "Bearing the Burden: Health Implications of Environmental Pollutants in Our Bodies" ( here ) as a companion report to help interpret the CDC's findings. PSR's report shows that many of the chemicals measured by CDC can have serious health effects, even at low levels of exposure.

And as part of its DETOX campaign, in support of European Union proposals for stricter chemical regulation, the World Wildlife Fund analyzed blood samples from 14 Ministers from 13 European Countries. The analysis found 55 separate chemicals in the samples, with PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds and brominated flame retardants in the blood of every Minister. A pdf of the study is available here . Carl Wagner, the project director, expressed it poignantly: "In my blood there are at least 43 artificial, man-made chemicals. Chemicals used to make fire-resistant sofas, non-stick pans, greaseproof-pizza boxes, baby bottles, the lining of tin cans and even pesticides banned decades ago. My reaction to this surprise discovery has been one of growing shock. Shock initially because I had no idea these chemicals were in my body- or how they got there. And they are not just in me: many of the same chemicals have been found in polar bears, dolphins, birds of prey and other species. Shock because nobody can tell me what effect these chemicals have."

Against this disarming background, further polluting the inner and outer environments with the excreta of excessively applied personal care products seems just a tad insalubrious rather than the contrary. My impulse -- other than a balanced diet and perhaps moderate multivitamin supplementation -- is to put as little extraneous chemistry into and onto my body as possible. The EPA has been studying personal care products as environmental pollutants and the results are astounding (see here ). This had become such an issue that The American Chemical Society's Division of Environmental Chemistry conducted an international symposium on the Environmental Chemistry of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) at its National Meeting in 2004. From urine and feces in septic systems, for example, excreted personal care products find their way to regional aquifers, to sediments and wildlife on land and in open waters, where they may be altered by chemical transformations driven by the UV in sunlight, volatilized as yet another source of respiratory irritants (witness the alarming rise in the rate of asthma), concentrated in fish and other wildlife and even returned to us either in original (metals) or metabolically transformed form. The possibilities are endless and mostly not well-studied.

These and other studies can be readily accessed here , an organization closely connected with the ( New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project ), which is achieving astounding results detoxifying both the heroes and the inadvertently exposed Southern-Manhattan populace of the 9/11-generated toxins of the World Trade Center Disaster(now over 600 treated). When we consider the aforementioned studies and the cesspool of discarded and self-administered extraneous chemistry that apparently characterizes most of our bodies, perhaps detoxification is a much saner strategy than hypersupplementation.

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Vin has a PhD in molecular biology, taught college science in Boston, and currently writes about science for various venues. His passion is the evolution of the US healthcare system far beyond its current oversimplistic (more...)
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