Can vitamins poison you?

It's been a fantastically liberating week: a man by the name of John Hathcock has set me free.

He's the vice-president of Scientific and International Affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition in Washington, US, and no, freedom didn't come in the form of a Green Card.

Hathcock is a scientist who has spent much of his career focusing on the smoke-and-mirrors business of whether vitamins and other supplements are a necessary and desirable part of our every day; and if so, which (and how many) we should be taking. Specifically, he's interested in this: at what point do supplements become useful, and at what point toxic?

This is a good question, in light of various findings over the years that we can overdose on a variety of supplements, and/or that supplements are only there to 'make expensive urine'.

Hathcock was brought to South Africa by the Health Products Association of SA (HPA), and you could have heard a pin drop this week as he spoke to the crowd that split the seams of the Vineyard Conference Centre venue.

Even the most clear-thinking of us get befuddled by the piecemeal and contradictory information that comes out of studies, regarding everything from chocolate and red wine (do the benefits outweigh the downsides – and at what levels?) to exercise (if you exercise at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, rather than in the 'fat-loss zone', does that mean you won't lose fat?)

This is why Hathcock has set me free.

"If you want certainty," he said as an aside during his talk, "you'll need to turn to religion or politics". Science cannot provide certainty.

Hooray. No rights or wrongs, then, just common sense. There are elements that can become toxic in extremely high doses – but then water is toxic in extremely high doses, so just keep it real, and you'll be fine. Filter information through an intelligence about your own body, how it feels, and what your diet might be lacking. Buy reputable brands, and if nothing else, adopt Hathcock's suggestion that a multivitamin with added minerals is a very fine start.
 

 (Heather Parker, Health24, February 2008)

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes
29% - 9758 votes
No
71% - 24103 votes
Vote