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2/23/04 4:27 PM
Copyright 2004 David C. Loebig

Vitamins Confuse Me
Vitamins Confuse Me, As Usual

I’m confused. That’s not unusual. This time it’s vitamins. A daily multi-vitamin is simple enough. It’s all the other stay-young-lose-weight-bench-press-your-house natural blends.

In the old days, an apple a day was all it took. Then came Geritol and One-A-Day. And today we face wide shelves of natural herbal products proclaiming victory over every human frailty--one for the joints, one for energy and one for memory. Any day now I expect to find one to improve my parallel parking--“Sharpen your driving skills by altering your biochemistry.”

It’s the modern version of the old west pioneer who rides his wagon into town hawking Old Man Floyd’s Invigoratin’ Elixir--“It Livens the Blood and Jiggles the Giblets.”

Well, it’s not exactly like the old west. Modern science has come a long way, so today’s products have better slogans.

Actually, since supplements aren’t regulated like drugs, they don’t go through the same Food and Drug Administration testing and approval process. Seemingly, the only requirement for supplements is that the researcher must use scientific-sounding terminology and hold a clipboard. It gives the researcher the look of impartial authority that says, “I’m not influenced by the wheelbarrow full of money I’m going to make selling this natural sounding product.” His name is Joe.

Joe’s research sometimes consists of inviting a neighbor over, giving him a pill and asking him to choose his favorite slogan. Joe invited his neighbor Chuck and gave him a new supplement. Chuck is now experiencing heart palpitations. Joe nods and thinks about where he can get a wheelbarrow for all the money he’ll make from his supplement.

If you doubt that there’s a lot of money to be made, one healthy-formula company provided some insight. On the company web site there was a distributor incentive that said in big fancy letters that the president is “Opening The ‘VAULT’ For Those Who Want To Earn The BIG $.” And it had a picture of a very happy man pushing a WHEELBARROW FULL OF MONEY.

How much money does the industry make? Unfortunately, my fact-checker Chuck took off this week to participate in an experiment. They offered him sandwiches, and frankly that’s more than I can pay. So I can’t give you an exact figure. Suffice it to say that researcher Joe wants to borrow a wheelbarrow.

Once the scientific-sounding research is done, the marketing department unleashes the clever slogans with newly contrived words like “nutriceuticals.” You may have seen this medical-sounding word in ads lately. I asked a pharmacist if it’s a real word, and her educated, authoritative response was, “What are you talking about?” Her sharp answer scared me, so I scurried away. The obvious conclusion is that I need a “bravery” supplement, so I’m now taking the Budweiser blend sold in handy 12-ounce doses.

At any rate, I’m going to stick to my simple multi-vitamin. It’s not that every “natural” product is ineffective--after all, the Budweiser blend is natural--but I’ll wait for the double-blind, peer reviewed science of the FDA and independent universities. With vast resources and funding, they don’t have to rely on fancy clipboards. They also wear cool lab coats.

Dave Loebig writes and banters out of the Tampa, Fla. Area. You can banter with him at

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