Vitamania by Catherine Price – Book Review
Vitamania talks about the mania of Vitamins. The mania that exists in current day American society. I think India is fast moving towards the same direction. Reason being fortified foods and Vitamin supplements. Author Catherine Price brings out certain facts – many of which are shocking. She achieves this with her extensive research into the history of Vitamins, use of Vitamins, marketing of supplements and regulations that apply to them.
I personally liked this book Vitamania, because I inherently believe in what Catherine Price is trying to convey. She conveys, through the book that it is very difficult to imitate nature. When we try to break up natural elements into parts to look for a magic pill, we forget that every part of nature exists works in tandem with each other. And there are processes that cannot be completed unless every element plays its role. Catherine Price does not say it loud until the end of the book. But throughout the book, she has been creating a case to say the same with the help of data from lots of studies.
I quite enjoyed the history of the discovery of Vitamins. At a time when people had no idea of deficiency diseases. Once identified, there were an unprecedented rise and acceptance of Vitamins. Processed food industry took to them like anything. Anything fortified with Vitamins could be sold at a premium. By 1940s, the era of Vitamins had started in America. We added many chemical terms to our vocabulary. Later it was followed by measuring them in exact quantities to calculate what we are consuming. Katherine Price brings out the anecdotes like Wartime army’s needs that led to a lot of medical research and how Germany was a pioneer here.
The shocking parts are the regulations in America that put food supplements in the category of foods and not drugs. They remain in a gray area because the companies do not need a formal approval to take or to sell these supplements. As and when people tried to bring regulation, it only led to manufacturers putting ingredients on the packaging. Which really did not mean anything for the layperson. What is even more concerning is that people assume that FDA controls all these supplements. And that is why they can have them without any doubt? The whole nexus between the industry and politicians. And how they would go to any extent for personal benefit is scary. She well demonstrates here how these industries take the trusting common man for a ride.
Catherine Price also brings out the damaging role of advertising in creating a public opinion. Her research indicates that many doctors are also unaware of the damaging effects of chemicals. Chemicals selling under the name of supplements. As they are as ignorant about the missing regulation bit. Like she says at one place ’There are only 13 basic Vitamins but Vitamin Shops sells around 18000 products’. She also warns about the potential ill effects due to overdoses. As the assumption is that supplements are safe in any quantity. The author then talks about the next research in this space like bio-fortification and food genomic. Something I was not aware of, but henceforth would keep an open eye for.
Katherine Price ends by giving a simple common sense advice – Before you pick up a bottle or a box, ask yourself why, exactly, you’re buying it? What do you think it will do? She asks, what evidence do you have for your beliefs? What are the known side effects and interactions? Is there a chance that it might do more harm than good? She tells in essence that the best source of Vitamin C will remain citrus fruits. No fortification can give you an equivalent result.
An annexure lists a small biography of each of the known Vitamins.
If you are a calorie counter, this one is for you. Read Vitamania to know the truth of what we consume.