If you awoke one dark night and discovered your home was on fire, you would scramble for the fire extinguisher and, while spraying the flames with your left hand, dial 911 for fire department reinforcement with the other. Agreed?  That would be a reasonable course of action. And, if you found yourself in Israel during the Iraq attack facing the incoming scud missiles, you would want the Patriot missiles primed and ready to intercept. I would. After all, we’d want to prevent damage consequent to fires from the explosives. Reasonable? Then why don’t you take antioxidants? After all, you are under attack. Free radicals, arsons of the microcosm and products of normal cellular metabolism, are constantly bombarding your cell walls creating damage through oxidation. Oxidation is another word for burning. Remember, oxygen is what allows wood to burn (think blowing of the ashes) and encourages iron to rust (think ferrous oxide).

 Antioxidants, also known as free-radical scavengers, put of cellular “fires”. They are all the rage. This past year covers stories on TIME and NEWSWEEK as well as most popular health journals such as Prevention have tried to impress upon the American public the importance of these vitamin and mineral supplements. Reader’s Digest, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report have chimed in. Impressive research on antioxidants have filled professional medical and nutritional journals. Even the U.C. Berkeley Wellness Letter, America’s most widely read health newsletter, whose editorial staff has long minimized the critical role of antioxidants, last January reversed a ten year stand by reporting that the vast majority of Americans are eating a diet deficient in these essential nutrients and recommending that they supplement with vitamin C. 

Remember, for some quirk of nature (perhaps God does have a sense of humor, albeit quite dry) humans, guinea pigs and a diverse cadre of other creatures can’t make their own vitamin C. All other being can. Therefore if you are to get your daily dose of vitamin C, you need to eat it. It’s found primarily in fruits and vegetables along with a co-factor called bioflavonoids. That’s why mom insisted that you eat your vegetables. And we all know that mothers are always right…

Now if you hate your veggies or if you (like me) would have trouble eating the six servings of fruits and vegetables daily which would satisfy the RDA (recommended daily allowance) or if you smoke or consume toxins that stress antioxidants, then you need to supplement. You really do. no longer any doubt among people who know the research. Quality is the operative question. Vitamin C at wholesale cost can vary from $3. per kilogram to $70 per kilogram. Which quality are you swallowing? Generally, in life we get what we pay for.

In my practice I use quality vitamins and minerals as a first line approach to strengthening the body’s health forces. I determine to what degree a person is either deficient or toxic in certain substances. Then we simply replenish the deficiencies or eliminate the toxicities. That alone can work wonders. However, if I don’t use the very best vitamins and minerals, we won’t make progress and people will give up on this holistic and non-toxic approach. So I scrutinize carefully the ingredients and formulation of various supplements. I then offer folks top quality products – but this costs.

Mr. J., for example, didn’t want to spend $1.75 on antioxidants. Too expensive. I delighted in pointing out that his daily coffee (a double tall mocha) cost him $2.25. Mr. S. is partial to dark beer averaging $2.80/bottle. Furthermore, Americans in general spend more than $2. on the following items which compose the most commonly purchased products from grocery stores each day. Read ’em and weep. They are listed in order of frequency: Marlboro cigarettes, Coke Classic, Pepsi Cola, Kraft Cheese, Diet Coke, Campbell‘s Soup, Budweiser Beer, Tide Detergent, Folger’s Coffee and you guessed it, Winston cigarettes. Heaven help us.

 Cheap vitamins give the entire industry a bad reputation so buyer beware! I recommend you pay attention to two factors that are easy to determine. Only buy a vitamin that is 1) chelated and 2) a capsule (not a pill or tablet). Chelated vitamins in capsules will be well absorbed. All other supplements may not be well absorbed because of the following factors. Tablets or pills (but not capsules) are pressure treated (1200 pounds per square centimeter) making them hard to digest. Frequently these will make the entire transit and mock you as you flush. Tablets and pills also, by law, need to be mixed with filler substances that either have no health benefit, inhibit adequate absorption or, worse still, can cause allergic reaction.

 Why take antioxidants? Well, the research is unequivocal that these supplements play an important role in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses such as arthritis and auto-immune problems. What type of numbers are we talking? How does 54% of all deaths in 1993 being cardiac related and 21% being cancer related sound to you? That totals 75% of all deaths are considered preventable by taking antioxidants daily on a regular basis. Hmmm. Recent research tells us that even among people 300% above the poverty level, consumption is poor in antioxidants. Three quarters of that population consume less than the RDA for vitamin E and one half consume less than the RDA for vitamin C. How does some vitamin C sound for dessert now?

Now, if you are the typical American, you aren’t taking antioxidants because you were taught one of three things worth debunking now. Myth #1: You get enough vitamins and minerals in your three meals/day. Answer: Our soil is too depleted so even the food  doesn’t have the vitamins! Enough said. Myth # 2: Vitamins and minerals are a waste of money and only make expensive urine. Answer: true for low quality supplements, not true for high quality supplements (eg chelated capsules) that are well absorbed and assimilated. Myth #3: Doctor knows best and he/she said not to waste your money. Answer: Remembering that “doctor” means “teacher” consider that “doctor of medicine” means “teacher of medicine” as opposed to “teacher of health” or “teacher of longevity”. In medical school we M.D.s are taught means of fighting disease using primarily pharmaceutical drugs. We are not taught about health or vitamins. What is the logic, therefore, in asking a medical doctor about vitamins?

 To further elucidate this problem, let me tell you a secret. Medical doctors live an average of 20 years less than the general population. Yup. My colleagues die at 54 years old on the average. Non-doctors die, on the average at 74. (Optimistic note: in 1993 8 of 10 doctors took vitamin E. Pessimistic note: in 1993 only 3 of 10 doctors recommended vitamins to their patients. Stated Reason: concerned for their professional reputation). Hmmm…

 Let’s consider the case of Linus Pauling. Dr. Pauling was a scientist and not a medical doctor but he championed the role of high dose vitamin C. He himself consumed 10-20 grams of vitamin C per day. Medical doctors laughed at him initially but became increasingly indignant and defensive when this antioxidant pioneer (and, I might add, two time Nobel Laureate) began recommending that others take high-dose vitamin C. Well, most of those doctors are quiet now. Pauling, who died this year in his 90’s, outlived his medical antagonists by a quarter of a century. In addition, whereas most of us are destined to fade through our last years like a dimmer switch losing faculty after faculty and withering into the hospital bed at the old folk’s home, Pauling went out like a lightbulb- PING. He was working his farm on horseback and lecturing around the country right up until the end.

 Now let’s be clear that antioxidants are not a cure all. For example, if the earth shifts, antioxidants won’t help those of us living atop the recently publicized earthquake fault line that runs under south Whidbey. Valium would be the conventional choice. (Niacinamide has been shown to be equally effective in treating anxiety though). Life is a poker game. I’m gambling that my land will become shore-front after the quake. But as far as general health and vitality, I recommend you start the New Year by stacking the cards in favor of health and longevity by keeping the ace up your sleeve. To be specific, the ACE you need is: Pro-vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamin C and vitamin E.

To Your Health!

Bradford S. Weeks, M.D. (c)  1993 


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