Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine, food.

Go, Hippocrates! It's as true today as in 460 B.C., given the wide variety of foods (and food-like substances) now available.  As I enter my week anniversary of a nasty cold, health is much on my mind.  I have a pantry shelf that would look far better if not full of various vitamin supplements and herbal remedies.

These definitely fill the minimalist bill better than their allopathic counterparts considering their origins and lack of serious side effects - as long as they work
There is a backlash against vitamin supplements, and not just from the nasty old medical industries (who cause a jawdropping number of deaths as a byline to their services).   Highly respected (by me) experts in dietary therapy are publishing article after article on risks or ineffectiveness of vitamin supplements for their marketed purpose.  There's no question that alternative remedies are also big business.

If you are quite keen for details, here are some:
The point is that there is no magic pill, and there is no magic vitamin pill either.  The popular assumption:
  1. Some foods promote health
  2. These foods contain vitamins; therefore
  3. The vitamins promote health (not necessarily)
This is the assumption that supplement marketers hope you will not think through.  If derived nutrients do not deliver, I want to know.

With natural remedies, it's very true that there is insufficient regulation of dosages and sources even of substantiated substances.  It's a serious case of let the buyer beware...
  •  If like me, you believe herbal remedies can be very effective, it's a worthwhile investment to consult a local trained herbalist, whose business will generally include sourcing reputable herbs.
  •  Important!  Natural remedies are holistic, which means you have to pay as much attention to what you avoid as what you take.  (Hippocrates was big on holistic treatments too.)  Don't expect garlic and vitamin C and ginger to do much for your stuffy nose if you're comfort eating chocolate biscuits and drinking dairy milk at the same time.  This may be one reason why scientific tests get inconsistent results.
But let's not lose sight of the forest because of all those darned trees!  What is actually in my cupboard and why?

As a vegan, I have to take this supplement - regularly!  And my kids also must.  I've been B12 deficient before due to sloppy supplementation, and it's not pleasant.  My life might have taken a very different track had I not allowed this to happen.  (Easier to recover from than a heart attack or stroke though :-)

Luckily, there seems to be no debate about this one - again from Jeff Novick "The B12 issue for vegans is a separate issue and meets all my criteria for a supplement. The need (if one "chooses" to be a strict vegan which would be a personal choice and consumes no fortified foods) has been clearly established as has its safety and effectiveness."  More on B12.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
This is a hallowed family tradition, at least for two generations.  My stark childhood memories include gulping down cold glasses of increasingly bitter juice with so much vitamin C that it wouldn't fully dissolve.  (I try to do better by my kids and make sure it has at least dissolved.)  As an adult, I now take mine in water with stevia and through a straw to protect my tooth enamel.  Hmmm, thin enamel, vitamin C, wouldn't be too crazy to theorise a link there.

Vitamin C is popularly considered to have no established benefits in curing or shortening a cold, or anything else beyond the levels required to prevent scurvy.  Yet here is a more comprehensive analysis, well worth a read.  Also thought-provoking is the entry from Wikipedia and the Cochrane review.

For me?  I'm still one of the devout.  Is it for the same reason some people say they believe in God - what harm does it do, and if you're right, then you win!  There's a certain parallel to the logic...   But I can feel the anti-inflammatory properties of a heavy dose of C immediately.  Also, both my parents could pass for 10 years younger, and lifelong daily doses of an antioxidant could have something to do with that.

The evidence is still too interesting for me to agree that there are no benefits.  One consistent finding is that vitamin C definitely provides immune support for people under extreme stress  - "think marathon runners or soldiers on subarctic exercises" - or, may I add, mums of small children.  I rest my case (with a big vitamin C).

Multivitamin/mineral (adult and kids)
Just in caseI find studies showing that multivitamins are helpful, dangerous, and useless.  If you can find something conclusive, please share.

Herbal cold elixir
I am addicted to this stuff!   Contains many of the better known immune boosters but more importantly, it contains peppermint and eucalyptus oils and when you take a spoonful, it hits your nasal passages and burns its way up through your brain.  Irresistible!

Zinc - maybe helps with immune system and colds (I doubt I'll replace this when done)
Evening primrose oil - bought 2 huge bottles of huge capsules and haven't finished the first bottle yet
Garlic and horseradish and stuff - mostly the DH uses these while real mums use real garlic!
Vitamin E - miraculous results (although sticky and smelly) applied to sunburn
Folic acid - already emptied as way past date and I'm not supplementing for a pregnancy
Slippery elm - bought for heartburn during pregnancy, ineffective as far as I could tell.  Someone tell me to bin it!
Cranberry - due to chronic yeast infections - ineffective against mine.  Will take the last few in the next few days rather than bin.

Are you a dedicated herbal junkie?  Does it work for you?  Does your cupboard have a collection too?

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