Thursday, 17 October 2013

Vitamin A Overdose

A heads up for those in the UK for tonight's episode of "Trust Me I'm A Doctor" (BBC Two at 20:00 BST on Thursday 17 October 2013), which has a piece on vitamin A toxicity as experienced by polar explorer Douglas Mawson:
  • A month into their journey, one of the team, along with the tent, most of the provisions and six dogs plunged into a crevasse, never to be seen again. Mawson and the other surviving member, Xavier Mertz, started to return to base, surviving in part by eating the remaining dogs. After a few weeks Mertz developed stomach pains and diarrhoea. Then his skin started to peel off and his hair fell out. He died incontinent and delirious a few days later.

    Mawson suffered similar symptoms. With the kind of understatement typical of his generation of polar explorers he described the skin of the soles of his feet peeling off: "The sight of my feet gave me quite a shock, for the thickened skin of the soles had separated in each case as a complete layer... The new skin underneath was very much abraded and raw."

    It was the suffering of early explorers and sailors that motivated the first studies of vitamins and their deficiency diseases. At first sight Mawson's story seems to be another such tale - starvation combined with a lack of some vital nutrient. In fact, Mawson's description of his symptoms is an almost textbook description of vitamin A overdose - probably from eating dog liver. As little as 100g of husky liver could give a hungry explorer a fatal dose. 
Non-UK residents can see this program on the BBC iPlayer.

I've asked before where people who 'pill-pop' think we got our vitamins from in our ancestral past.  Pill-popping is a 'downstream' intervention which may or may not have the desired effect.  Better to tackle problems at their root and make the necessary lifestyle adaptions.

Pill popping may also be seen as reductionist to the extent that taking a vitamin pill ignores all and every other compound and bioactive ingredient in the food or foods from which humans may have historically sourced the said vitamin.   All this before we get to the question of the bioavailability of vitamins in pill form.

Unless directed by a doctor, the advice from here is save your money and eat real food!  What is real food?  You KNOW it when you see it.  It 'ain't difficult.

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