Vitamins as Medicine. Yay or Nay?

So I started my holiday reading with a book called What your doctor doesn’t know about nutritional medicine may be killing you

My mum’s recommendation. And as all med students probably would, I scoffed at the title. Now I’m not a big believer in vitamin supplements. I had a lecturer who quoted studies that showed taking vitamins increases risk of heart attack. He said “You want to be the person who wants to take vitamins, but doesn’t.” My mum makes me take OTC iron tablets and vitamin C tablets because I get periodically anaemic. After arguing with her about doses and studies that suggest their uselessness, I gave up and started swallowing the tablets. She later on gave me this book to read because of my repeated crying.

Anyways! This book was written by Dr. Ray D Strand, (an American general physician) and mainly talks about the importance of nutritional supplementation not only to maintain health but also to reverse effects of many diseases such as fibromyalgia, heart failure, diabetes, asthma, macular degeneration, etc. He mentions many live cases including that of his own wife who suffered from chronic fibromyalgia. She made a stunning recovery after going on a vigorous nutritional supplement program. This prompted the initially skeptical Dr. Strand to start his own research in the field of nutritional medicine.

He goes on to quote studies that show a definite correlation between certain diseases such as heart failure and deficiencies of nutrients such as coenzyme Q10, etc. He talks about preventive medicine and studies that show that the deficiency of certain nutrients may be involved in the pathogenesis of diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons disease.

Another major theme in this book is that of oxidative stress. Dr. Strand talks about oxidative stress as the major cause of many organ pathologies and insists that taking antioxidants will slow down and prevent these pathologies. While I knew that oxidative stress is one of the main theories of aging, a lot of the cellular changes mentioned in this book caused by oxidative stress were a real eye-opener for me.

Now this isn’t like those boards you see at pharmacies suggesting you should take Vitamin C around flu season to get fewer colds etc. I’m sure that isn’t conclusively proven. But there are trials and case studies suggesting that things like Vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, and grape-seed extract improve symptoms in diseases such as asthma, macular degeneration, emphysema, rheumatoid arthritis. Things that can really bring down patient quality of life. Worth looking up!

The disclaimer is ofcourse that this supplementation does not Cure any of these disease and is Not an alternative to any prescribed medication. The idea is that it is complementary medication. Take with your regular meds, you won’t be cured, but you’ll feel a hell of a lot better.

While I can’t say I’ve been fully converted into believing in taking vitamins, I will say this book has sparked my interest in ‘nutritional medicine’ because a lot of what we’re taught about in med school consists of advising patient to “change their diet and exercise’, we’re not taught what exactly this “change of diet” should be and what benefit we’re actually supposed to be looking for in patients. And clearly, when you throw that vague statement at them, I don’t see anyone making “the change” straight away. I for one, would actually like to know what I’m actually supposed to be recommending to people. And actually have enough evidence and knowledge to believe in it myself.

Overall, I think this book is worth a read! Not just for med students/doctors but everyone really (my mum who is very health-conscious). It’s really quite interesting. But I’d love to hear what others and skeptics like myself think about nutritional medicine. How important is it really?

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