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own health. Interestingly, many health
professionals -- despite what they may
tell you when conforming to medical
industry standards -- take supplements.
The increasing use of dietary supplements
in general is one example of better health
through preventative measures, which is
a result of consumers wishing to take
charge of their own health.
Far too much credit is given to the
Recommended Daily Intakes (RDIs) of
nutrients -- the information on the side of
your breakfast food box -- as the guide to
healthy nutrition. These guides are based
on preventing acute nutrient shortages
and helping basic growth, not preventing
and treating modern day epidemics.
There has been a big shift in thinking from
the concept of "adequate nutrition," being
all that is required, to "optimal nutrition"
to help us flourish and be free of disease.
We have chronic illness related to diet and
nutrition in epidemic proportions and the
so-called professionals say it is okay because
some people meet the RDI levels. This is
insanity! Our early nutrition models were
great for preventing scurvy and pellagra,
but not for the chronic illnesses that afflict
so many now.
All too often even though the evidence
is there it takes decades or even longer to
get it through the wall of vested interests.
Perhaps we can learn from history. In 1601,
Captain James Lancaster gave lemon juice
to his ship's crew, one of four ships in his
fleet. The men on the three ships without
lemon juice suffered terribly from scurvy
and many of them died. Even though
the benefits of lemon juice were well
established on this and many other ships,
it took nearly two centuries -- during which
time nearly one million men died from
scurvy -- before the British government
adopted and implemented this cure.
More recently, it took two Australian
doctors almost a decade to get their
evidence accepted that a simple bacteria,
Helicobacter pylori, which can be
easily treated with a short-term dose of
antibiotics, is a major culprit in stomach
inflammation and ulcers, not too much
acid and stress. This finding threatened
the very lucrative antacid treatment and
the egos of many medical professionals
who had been recommending drugs for
the past 30 years to treat the symptoms
of gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. The
doctors were recognised and later awarded
a Nobel Prize in 2005 for their work after
they infected themselves with the bacteria
to develop ulcers then fixed it with simple
antibiotics. Pretty harsh when you have
to do that, but the medical profession
would still treat gastritis and ulcers with
ineffective drugs if the researchers had not
gone to such drastic extremes.
The government supplements, so
why can't we do the same? Despite their
rhetoric, governments have been pro-
supplementation through their forti-
fication of breads and breakfast foods
and salt. Governments all around the
world have requirements for nutritional
supplements to be added to foods -- from
vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6 (pyridoxine)
and iron in breads and cereals to iodine in
salt. However, government's fortification
efforts have been a bit myopic, ignoring
the fact that nutrients work together. The
B vitamin group are all water-soluble and
often work together in the same metabolic
pathways. So just supplementing with
folate or B6 may mask, or even lead to,
deficiencies in other B vitamins such as
B12. In nature, iron is often associated
with zinc; the food industry ignores this
fact when supplementing breakfast foods
with iron. And little do most consumers
realise when they take zinc in breakfast
cereal, the high phytate content of cereals
binds it up, stopping its absorption into
the body. The limits of government
supplementation are further highlighted
by the fact that the iron put in processed
foods is not readily absorbable.
The proof, however, is in the pudding.
I have seen so many people, literally in the
hundreds, who have told me how they
have benefited personally from supple-
menting. I have seen people's lives changed
dramatically as a result of supplementation.
I have seen people with advanced cases
of multiple sclerosis, confined to a
wheelchair, get up and walk. I have seen
people riddled with arthritis and convinced
that there is nothing that medicine can do
for them have free and flexible movement
without any pain. Cancer patients who
were once practically given up for dead
are still alive 20 or 30 years later and their
quality of life has improved dramatically as
a result of supplementing their diets. Most
commonly though, I see people who have
a new lease on life, they feel better and
have more energy and libido.
'Most commonly though, I see
people who have a new lease
on life, they feel better and
have more energy and libido.'
Dr Peter Dingle is a researcher,
educator and public health
advocate. He has a PhD in the field of
environmental toxicology and is not a
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