by Liz Loewenstein
This week we have a guest post from Liz Loewenstein. Liz is a Charlottesville native who works for a publishing company by day and hosts at a schmancy Italian restaurant by night. She also happens to be a radio DJ on the weekends. She shared with us her wild and crazy foray into the vitamin world.
At 11:30am every day, my phone explodes with buzzing and the sound of a doorbell, reminding me that it’s “Time To Take My Vitamins!” (I can almost hear my mother’s voice cooing the familiar and dreaded phrase). Vitamins, before the age of 12, were synonymous with those chalky, saccharine little bricks shaped like Flintstones characters, and I saw them more as a parental torture device rather than the key to health and happiness.
In high school, I fooled around with Echinacea tablets, while simultaneously confronting my hypochondria and my vulnerability to the Placebo Effect. Yes, they were great, I “never got sick,” I felt more in touch with ancient Eastern healing and the Great Unknown (probably).
But it wasn’t until this year that I truly became a Vitamin user and lover. After several months of Mysore yoga practice, my teacher gave me the hint that Magnesium and Calcium could help with mobility, and ultimately make the poses easier, and less like they’re only possible to perform if you’re a nine year old Chinese girl in Cirque du Soleil. I promptly went to the local health food/wellness store and asked for guidance. A nice middle-aged woman smelling slightly of patchouli picked out two bottles for me based on what seemed like a routine quiz given to customers of my level of vitamin ignorance:
“Do you eat a lot of fruit?”
“How about nuts?”
“Oh um, no not really.”
“Are you a vegetarian?”
“Yeah like, half ‘n’ half in my coffee? Cheese? Yogurt? Ok yeah I’m really into dairy.”
… and so on. it was not the most uplifting moment. But, I shook off my less-than-stellar health (/self-awareness) evaluation and proudly left the store clutching a Women’s Multi-Vitamin and a 2:1 Magnesium/Calcium supplement.
The former, in theory, seems like something you could get anywhere, and probably for way less than I paid. But the lady in the store explained that many vitamins, although they contain the same granules of goodness, contain them in different forms. For example, zinc is a relatively common element found in vitamins, because it’s awesome for you. But there are, of course, compounds of the element more suitable as a dietary supplement; zinc oxide is what you’d normally find in, say, the “One-A-Day” brand (which I also spent a few weeks trying to get into during high school, and hating about as much as the Flintstone chewables of yore). SimplyOne, the brand I was “prescribed,” contains zinc oxide as well as zinc citrate, which is more easily absorbed by the body. It completely freaked me out that companies making vitamins would throw random elements together in an enormous pill, tout its benefits, and not even take the time to figure out which compound of the elements to use. Harumph!
My quest for supplement nirvana didn’t end there. I had a few weeks of feeling empowered, sure, but suddenly was back to inadequacy (what’s new?) when I heard several of my friends praising the effects of B Vitamin (oooo, ahhh!). It was like the crack of the supplement world: people jonesed for it, could tell when they had skipped a pill or two, lauded it as the best hangover cure EVER, and suggested I “get on the B Vitamin train”.
This praise was counteracted by my mother’s tale of B Vitamin toxicity: how she, too, was part of the B Vitamin club, until she learned the way she was taking it (in combination with other sundry supplements for silky hair, clear skin) could actually cause her more harm than good (it was the 70s, she was barely 30, who’d blame her?). So back to the store I went, clutching my bottles and plaintively asking if I could pleeeeease get some info on “The B Vitamin”. What I came away with was yes, it is good, I am not slowly poisoning myself by taking it, and that my cherished SimplyOne Women’s was chock full of B, and I didn’t need to add another pill to the ones I was already taking. Success!
Several months later, several expensive trips to the hippie-dippie store later, and several poses deeper into yoga, I can still say that I am absolutely a proponent of vitamins, EVEN IF IT’S ALL IN MY HEAD. I can’t say I walk around on air, or have developed bionic hearing, or even that I’m losing weight (aren’t those the effects people seek in a vitamin? or am I mistaken?). But I can attest to the trite declaration that “it’s when you’re not on them that you notice”. AMEN. I will spare you the intricacies of what that means for me, but that feeling of a no-vitamin week is enough to keep me committed to my routine, even if I still find myself gagging after swallowing 4 behemoth-sized, gritty Monster Pills. Also, because I certainly go to greater lengths to do things that are really not good for my body, I might as well suffer that weird esophageal feeling in the name of well-being.
What I also discovered from my journey into the world of vitamins is that everyone has something they’re into. Whether it’s A. with his strange herbal teas he buys exclusively in the City, or M. and her evening glass of juice with the most ridiculous of names (GoodBelly?! I’m sorry, I just can’t not laugh), or my chiropractor who swears by apple cider vinegar (for what, you ask? answer: EVERYTHING). So, what’s your thing? That simple addition to your diet/day that you find inexplicably beneficial? Or, if you’re thing-less, let this post be your impetus to go out and find your own SimplyOne/Echinacea/placebo; it can be a highly rewarding quest. Here’s to what you might discover about yourself, and about the Wild ‘n’ Crazy world of vitamins.