Iron deficiency is the most widely recognized nutritional disorder in America, occurring in upwards of 20 million of us, especially women and growing children. Enrichment of flour with iron, 25 mg per pound, has failed to eradicate the problem and in the 1970's there was a serious move to double the amount of iron in flour. This was averted by the efforts of a very few physicians who realized that the less well known danger of iron overdose was equally great as the problem of anemia—or "tired blood."

Just when it begins to look as if nutrition is making headway with the health establishment and the media, something comes up to set the clock back 10 or 15 years. The most recent skirmish appeared on page 1 of the New York Times on Sunday, October 26, 1997. The headline defines the article: “In Vitamin Mania, Millions Take a Gamble on Health.” No matter what follows, this article, by Jane Brody, is intended to drive the American people away from vitamin therapy. The words “mania” and “gamble” suggest that nutrient therapy is crazy, without scientific support. Many readers probably read no farther than the headline and instead go back to junk food and extra desserts in celebration of this liberation from the thousands of positive health messages in support of nutrition these past few years.

“Study Finds Peril in Taking High Vitamin C Supplement”. So read the 2-column headline of a report by Jane Brody in the New York Times (April 5, 1998). Millions of people are bound to follow such statements as: “500 mg a day could damage people’s genes.” and “Americans must get over their love affair with vitamin C.” I felt my own credibility challenged by such statements, packaged persuasively with research conclusions from the British Journal, Nature.

Making false claims is the essence of medical quackery. Those who do it just for the money are considered charlatans. Until recently, nutrition health claims have been rated that low. Any physician, who claimed that nutrition could be a treatment for disease was automatically considered to be a quack. Do we have similar titles in other professions? In court we call it perjury; most everywhere else we just call it incompetence, but if it is done knowingly and for profit, we classify the perpetrator as a crook. Do we have a name for writers who make false claims? If you can prove it in court it is called libel, slander or swindle. Usually it is just being dumb. When it is obviously at someone’s expense, however, it is ignorance or error compounded by hostility and anger—arrogance. Journalistic arrogance is not nice, even when disguised as public service. I know. In my files I recently came across a dormant folder marked "New York Times." In it is a 1981 article by food writer, Jane Brody,1 entitled "The dangers of nutritional misinformation."

Linus Pauling with Dr. KuninMost people under the age of 40 have never heard of Linus Pauling in any connection other than as a promoter of the health benefits of vitamin C. In fact, those under the age of 50 may not know of Pauling’s accomplishments as a researcher, educator and administrator in the field of chemistry between 1920 and 1940, when he developed quantum mechanics and laid the groundwork for molecular biology—all before World War II. After the War he wrote his famous chemistry textbook, one that influenced a generation of college students and has remained in print almost 50 years, one of the longest running books in print today.

Feast in November; be Jolly in December. That sets the holiday spirit, indeed. With all the misery in this imperfect world crowding in closer year by year—or so it seems—one feels especially blessed for every day in which civilization seems to work well enough to at least provide the basics that we sometimes take for granted.

Nutrition doomsayers often warn against taking vitamins, especially in large doses. Are megavitamins dangerous? The truth of the matter is that vitamins are in a class by themselves when it comes to safety. They are safe, even at large doses, so long as the warning signs of toxicity are heeded. Even the fat soluble vitamins, A and D offer treatment benefits that far outweigh the adverse effects of overdose. But isn’t that what doctors are for, to help patients use medicines safely and effectively. It is just common sense that megavitamins should be used under medical supervision. Unfortunately the medical profession is just now recovering from "malnutrition." It is not easy to find an experienced and knowledgeable nutrition-physician.

Mercury makes up about half a gram, i.e.. 500 mg or 500,000 mcg, per ton (about 1000 Kg) of the Earth's crust, mostly as a reddish mercuric sulfide, known as cinnabar.  Thus mercury is naturally present in our food, ranging up to 50 ppb in fruits, vegetables and grains, 200 ppb for meats and 600 ppb for fish.  This translates as 600 ng (i.e. 0.6 mcg) per gram.  When mercury concentrations are higher than this it is certainly due to agricultural chemicals, such as mercury fungicides. 

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