The temptation to improve your health Having bought a bottle of multivitamins or dietary supplements (dietary supplements) in a pharmacy, store or online, it arises easily - especially when it seems that these funds will definitely not cause harm. They are often presented as medicines, although they have nothing to do with the latter - neither in composition, nor in terms of requirements for quality control and registration. Understanding why dietary supplements don't go out of style and how much money people spend on supplements they don't need.
Text: Masha Budryte
How vitamins were discovered
In the mid-19th century, scientists began to investigate how nutrition is related to health. Technologies made it possible to extract fats, proteins, carbohydrates, water and mineral salts (also called minerals) from food - it seemed that it was possible to create an ideal balance of these substances and make a real scientific breakthrough. Usually experiments were carried out in the following way: food, usual for experimental animals, was processed chemically, extracting known nutrients. Then these substances were fed to animals and the parameters of growth and development were measured.
One of these researchers was the Russian scientist Nikolai Lunin, who worked in the laboratory of Gustav Bunge in the city of Dorpat (present-day Tartu in Estonia). In 1881, he conducted an experiment: he took two groups of experimental mice, one he fed with ordinary cow's milk, and the second with a mixture of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and mineral salts, completely corresponding in proportion to the milk offered to the first group. As a result of the experiment, a group of mice that received the mixture died. Lunin concluded that for the normal functioning of the body, some other components are needed.
Unfortunately, Lunin's colleagues were unable to repeat the results of this experiment - in their version, the second group of mice survived. Much later it became clear that initially Lunin used cane sugar, and his colleagues - poorly refined milk; in the latter, vitamin B12 remained, thanks to which the mice survived. But at that time no one knew about this, and Lunin's works were forgotten for some time.
Another scientist, Dutchman Christian Eikman, studied beriberi disease (a disease of the nervous system caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1. - Approx. ed.), while in the Dutch East Indies. He found that when chickens and pigeons were fed peeled rice, they developed beriberi-like symptoms - they were unable to move, fly, or even stand. Eikman proved that the casing of rice, which is removed during the grinding process, prevents and treats these symptoms in birds.
The term "vitamin" was coined by the Polish scientist Kazimierz Funk, who studied diseases such as scurvy, beriberi, rickets and pellagra. Funk isolated a chemical concentrate contained in the shell of rice grains. Funk added this substance to the diet of pigeons eating refined rice, and they did not develop symptoms from the nervous system. Assuming that the found substance belongs to the class of amines, Funk introduced the concept of "vitamin", from the Latin vita - "life" and amine - "amine". Subsequently, it was proved that substances with similar functions can belong to different chemical classes, and the word vitamine became vitamin.
Since then, vitamins have been well studied and carefully classified not only by chemical composition, but also by many other characteristics. Today it is known that vitamins are needed by the body in tiny quantities, not only to prevent certain diseases, but also for normal growth and development.
How vitamins came into fashion
Doctors and nutritionists never tire of repeating that with an adequate diet, the human body is able to get all the necessary substances from food, including vitamins. At the same time, many are convinced that vitamin deficiency is easy to earn, and the more vitamins there are, the better and more useful.This is not so: the body needs vitamins in minimal quantities, and the likelihood of an overdose is now higher than the risk of shortage.
Vitamins, although they were a breakthrough in science, at first did not attract as much interest as they do today. The popularizer of additives to improve the quality and composition of food was the scientist Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and the progenitor of molecular biology. His research inspired the scientists who discovered the structure of DNA - Nobel Prize winners James Watson and Francis Crick, as well as Rosalind Franklin, who was the first to "photograph" the structure of DNA using X-rays.
Linus Pauling was a scientist and public figure, his name was known outside the scientific community. Together with his wife, Ava Helen Pauling, he opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons, presented a draft ban on nuclear tests. For his work and activism in this area, Pauling received the second Nobel Prize in 1962 - this time the Peace Prize. In 1963, his project formed the basis of an agreement between the USSR, the USA and Great Britain.
Thanks to Pauling's merit, two Nobel Prizes and social activism, he became a real superstar. Then he decided to study medicine and nutrition. In the 1970s, Pauling published several scientific papers and books on vitamin C, where he argued that high doses of it prevented colds and flu. He also reported that vitamin C intake increased life expectancy in cancer patients. In 1972, Pauling published with another vitamin C researcher, Dr. Evan Cameron, - the authors stated that a dose of 10 thousand milligrams of vitamin C, about 250 times the recommended intake, would three to four times increase the life expectancy of people with terminal stages. cancer.
Since Pauling was a celebrity as well as a Nobel laureate, his claims were not questioned. In fact, the quality of this study was low. In particular, there was no standardized study protocol at all, and the experimental and control groups were not the same. Apparently, patients receiving the vitamin were classified as "incurable" shortly after diagnosis, when their life expectancy was still long enough. The control group included patients in a much more serious condition.
This and subsequent research, despite frankly poor design, was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a leading scientific journal owned by the American Academy of Sciences. At that time, Nobel laureates could publish their work and select experts to review with virtually no hindrance, which Pauling took advantage of. Tellingly, the scientific community immediately criticized Pauling's "discoveries", but his reputation in the public field allowed him to continue to publish in popular science publications, give interviews and publish books. In 1992, Time magazine published the article "The Power of Vitamins: New Research Shows They Help Fight Cancer, Heart Disease and Aging." This note recounted Pauling's basic claims that had no scientific basis, which had already been criticized by other scientists.
This has been taken advantage of by the vitamin complex and other food supplement industry. The National Nutritional Foods Association, which also lobbied for the interests of dietary supplement manufacturers, began to actively promote the benefits of vitamins, including sending out personal copies of Time magazine with an article about Pauling to all members of Congress and campaigning to loosen the regulation of vitamin complexes and other dietary supplements.
In 1994, the United States introduced the Law on Food Additives: dietary supplements have ceased to be classified as medicines, but have become precisely "additions" to food.Since the strict rules for studying and preparing for registration now did not apply to dietary supplements, their manufacturers have the opportunity to attribute any magical properties to them, claim health benefits and even promise the healing of diseases. After that, both the American and the global dietary supplement industry skyrocketed.
The fact that dietary supplements do not belong to the categories of drugs and food makes it possible for manufacturers to hide their composition - it may not be indicated completely or not correspond to the declared one. In 2017, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported that Rospotrebnadzor withdrew several batches of Chinese-made dietary supplements from sale and stated that some of them could harm health and be life-threatening. We have already said that "sports" supplements can be effective for losing weight or gaining muscle mass for the simple reason that they contain prohibited substances, of course, not declared on the label.
In 2002, the European Union issued special rules for the circulation of dietary supplements - only complexes that are safe in the indicated doses can be sold without a prescription. In Russia, it is forbidden to advertise dietary supplements as medicines; the law also has a number of requirements for advertising of food additives - in particular, it should not "contain references to specific cases of curing people, improving their condition as a result of the use of such additives." Other laws issued in the same year increased the impact on distributors of "substandard and unregistered drugs, medical devices and counterfeit dietary supplements." However, dietary supplements sold in Russia can be dangerous - especially since they are often distributed through channels such as Instagram, rather than through pharmacies.
In 2012, in the United States, Americans spent an average of $ 100 a month on dietary supplements - including adults and children. In 2017, 177 million packs of dietary supplements were sold in Russia - in monetary terms, this is 24.3 billion rubles.
Why are even good quality dietary supplements dangerous?
Let's say you don't buy anything through social networks, pay attention to the manufacturer's reputation and bring multivitamins from European pharmacies. Unfortunately, even such a tactic can be harmful: there is more and more evidence that an excess of vitamins can contribute to the development of malignant tumors - in particular, the results of a number of studies on lung cancer indicate this. For those who play sports, vitamin support is also optional: the benefits of exercise are also associated with the so-called oxidative stress, during which free radicals are produced. Vitamin antioxidants can nullify this process, negating some of the benefits of exercise.
As doctors and scientists never tire of reminding, you can get all the necessary nutrients from a normal diet. Only certain groups are at risk - for example, vegans have a slight danger of vitamin B12 deficiency, regular menstruation can contribute to iron deficiency, many people have vitamin D deficiencies, and folic acid is indicated in preparation for pregnancy and in the first trimester. Be that as it may, you should not prescribe vitamins and dietary supplements yourself, if you have any problems, it is better to consult a doctor.
PHOTOS: Nataliia Pyzhova - stock.adobe.com