Millions of people swear by vitamin supplements. But many are wasting their time and some could even be harming themselves, argues Dr Chris van Tulleken. In November 1912 a party of three men and 16 dogs set out from a remote base in eastern Antarctica to explore a series of crevasses many hundreds of miles away.
"Spanish Influenza - what it is and how it should be treated," read the reassuringly factual headline to an advert for Vick's VapoRub back in 1918. The text beneath included nuggets of wisdom such as "stay quiet" and "take a laxative". Oh, and to apply their ointment liberally, of course.
While over-the-counter medicines provide us with a so-called ‘relief’ by suppressing our fever, runny nose and other ‘symptoms’, these are in fact necessary for the body to get well. The symptoms we want to be stopped are not our enemy:
The mucus is helping flush out the pathogen.
The fever(heat) makes the body impalpable for it to survive and replicate.
The body pain is actually the inflammatory chemicals in your veins, guiding the immune cells like an air traffic controller.
The brain is provided with a signal to slow down and let the body recover.
Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling had some studies published which were claiming that large doses of Vitamin C can cure illnesses like cancer and heart disease, along with the flu, but so far the claims have been largely inaccurate, though a few studies reported a shorter duration of the illness in some people.
Vitamin C activates key enzymes in our bodies and acts as an antioxidant. It protects the organs (like lungs) from pathogens. This Vitamin is crucial for the body to launch an effective immune response. All the more reason to consume citrus fruits, and vegetables like the Indian Gooseberry.
Supplements don’t work as effectively and extremely large doses have side effects like nausea, diarrhea and stomach ache.