Commentary: Do Supplements Really Improve Health?

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I have watched so many of those television commercials for vitamin supplements that I am beginning to think that those little capsules might even be working on me through osmosis as I lay on my favorite recliner.

Many people swear by the effectiveness of supplements. I remain an agnostic when it comes to vitamins and minerals taken supposedly to improve my health. While I am not much of a believer in them, I am open to a change in direction when it comes to supplements.

My mother had a friend named Mildred who once demonstrated to me that vitamins, even taken in large quantities, are safe. I remember that she reached into her pocket and took two handfuls of Nature Made specials and swallowed the lot of them.

I did not know what the results of her demonstration would prove, but Mildred looked OK after she swallowed dozens of capsules (and one button, I think). On the other hand, Mildred has not visited us in years.

Maybe she was wrong after all.

Speaking of handfuls of vitamins, do not ever forget them in your pocket or purse or that new light-colored pair of pants. They will not look good when they emerge from your washer after those vitamins attack the fibers. You certainly do not want to explain what those brown spots are on your new trousers.

The most popular advertisement dealing with supplements has to be the one promoting Prevagen that is supposed to protect your brain and keep it functioning.

There was an art movement back in the 1930s called Surrealism. (The word is a combination of “super” and “realism” or the world beyond this one.)

The creator of the Surrealist movement was a man named Andre Breton who was strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud. Freud is the father of psychoanalysis: ”Tell me what you dreamed and I’ll tell you what it means.”

Surrealism brought the art of the Spanish master Salvadore Dali to prominence and the strange organic abstract paintings of Joan Miro. While the movement dissipated after the Second World War, the decades that followed seemed to pay homage to Surrealism.

Even today, movies featuring zombies or television shows about the walking dead keep variations of the movement alive.

I doubt that this movement focusing on the brain including dreams and imagination will ever die. I wonder what Freud would have thought about Prevagen? I suspect not much.

Have you heard the radio promotions about California Psychics? These predictors of tomorrow are doing quite well, thank you.

Years ago, my Aunt Clara avidly followed psychics and lived her life based on what they told her. She would not move until she got the approval of her psychic adviser.

Clara was my mother’s older sister who introduced Mom to the world of psychics. A story my mother shared with me occurred when Mom was a teen. A famous psychic came to New Castle, Pa., and my mother was in attendance as would have been predicted.

From the stage the psychic said, “There is a young lady in the crowd and she is holding a key. Let me say this, that woman will become gravely ill.” The psychic left it right there.

My mother happened to be holding a house key. That prediction hit my mother like a ton of bricks. She worried and fretted for months, fearing that a horrible illness was going to strike her. She worried herself sick until a sympathetic doctor intervened and ended my mother’s dilemma. She never again dealt with psychics.

In fact, the great magician Houdini devoted the last part of his life to discrediting psychics and pronouncing them as charlatans, which is what they are. Yep, the brain is the most powerful instrument in so many ways.

I started all this by talking about vitamins, particularly Prevagen, which is advertised as keeping one’s brain working to full capacity. What I do believe is that exercise or any kind of body motion keeps our body parts running smoothly.

And while I am a great believer in the value of drinking water (lots of it), I myself do not drink enough water throughout the day. I recall walking a couple of visitors through The Butler one day.

All of a sudden, I became dizzy and had to grab onto the wall. One of those visitors was a nurse. She ran out to her car to get a bottle of water. After drinking it, my dizziness vanished and my strength returned. It was like a miracle.

No, it was a healthful drink of water.

I also remember walking through the gallery with our former curator and witnessing him drop to the floor. We called an ambulance but the reality was that he was dehydrated. He had not taken in water for a couple of days.

Water is human fuel. We need it to maintain ourselves. Again, I should talk. I, who can hardly finish a small plastic bottle of water. But I say, in all sincerity, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Something like that.

If I sound like I am out of my league giving medical advice, I certainly am.

This reminds me of when I went through a drive-in bank last summer and the young woman working there asking If I could suggest a weight loss program for her. She went on to ask a health-related question because she thought I was a medical doctor.

After convincing her that I was a Ph.D., not an M.D., and didn’t know a stethoscope from a periscope, I suggested that she drink a lot of water and eat plenty of veggies. How could anyone go wrong giving that advice?

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