Nutritionists’ specious reasoning

Doctors say that vitamin D supplementation cures rickets. Therefore vitamin D deficiency causes rickets and vitamin D supplementation can prevent rickets and vitamin D is required to prevent rickets. No substitutes. An impressive set of non sequiturs, exaggerated claims based on little, low quality data and a whole lot of reasonable -but not necessarily sound- inferences.

Likewise, they reason, vitamin C supplementation cures scurvy. Therefore, vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy and vitamin C supplementation can prevent scurvy. Therefore, vitamin C is an essential nutrient – it is required to prevent scurvy. This last statement audaciously implies that there are no substitutes, natural or synthetic, existing or yet to be made.

Tortuous reasoning, that.

Etc. for all other vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

H1 = Hypothesis 1: There is no such thing as a single nutrient imbalance (imbalance = deficiency or excess of a nutrient relative to a reference nutrient. Deficiency of nutrients appears to be more common).

Why?

H2 = Hypothesis 2: Every nutrient is a nutrient in at least one other nutrient’s ADME network.

Corollary to H1 and H2: All nutrient imbalances (usually deficiencies?) are multiple, although some may be more advanced than others.

Among imbalances that are all deficiencies, one can of course have one deficiency that is so much more advanced than others that its symptoms dominate the clinical picture. This I believe is the case with scurvy. A person who has scurvy cannot be taking even once a week supplements, cannot be consuming even one medium orange a week or one average dark green leafy vegetable-based salad a week. If they were, they could not become so depleted in vitamin C as to get scurvy.

Because they are deficient in vitamin C, they are likely at least somewhat deficient in at least one body compartment in vitamins and minerals that have vitamin C in their ADME networks. In addition, because of the absence of dark green leafy vegetables in their diet, they are likely also deficient in potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, and other nutrients, but perhaps not to the level of overt deficiency diseases of those nutrients.

One can cure the main symptoms of scurvy merely by supplementing vitamin C, but one cannot normalize the health of the person without correcting his/her wacky diet.

There is no such thing as a single cause of a disease that can make an account of all of the clinical symptoms of an individual or the natural range of symptoms that different patients show.

Disease is due to a process in which one or more agents (chemical, physical, and/or biological) is/are always involved in the complete clinical picture, and it or they exploit multiple deficiencies in basic structures and/or defense systems, and some of these deficiencies may have resulted from unreasonable excesses of something else (example: copper deficiency from unreasonable zinc supplementation of 90 mg a day for more than one year).

Let us look at vitamin C in a little more detail.

  1. There is simply no way to know whether another compound, already existing or not, could perform at least the hydroxylation functions of vitamin C, and thus prevent or cure scurvy.
  2. There is an unexplained asymmetry between the effect and the cure. Current thinking says that symptoms of scurvy usually appear when the total body vitamin C pools are below about 300 mg, but the main symptoms of scurvy do not reverse until the total body pools are over 1000 mg of vitamin C. Why? One possibility is that vitamin C has a cofactor that increases its potency. Without supplementing this cofactor, higher levels of vitamin C are necessary to reverse the symptoms of scurvy.
  3. An entire civilization that was almost certainly vitamin C deficient but suffered no obvious health consequences. This strongly suggests there already exists a substitute for vitamin C, and that this substitute can be found in one of a handful of common foods. Weston Price describes the winter or subsistence diet of the isolated Swiss as consisting of nothing but raw milk, raw milk cheese, raw butter, whole rye bread, and 1-2 servings of meat per week. Raw milk may contain a bit more vitamin C than pasteurized milk, which has almost none, and rye bread has almost no vitamin C. Even raw milk contains little vitamin C – so little that mammals are born with about a 6 month’s supply in their adrenal glands. Similarly, milk is deficient in vitamin D, which is supplied by sun exposure, and vitamin K, iron, and copper, which are stored in liver, again about a 6 month’s supply of each in well-nourished newborn mammals.
  4. An anecdote that needs further investigation. It goes roughly like this: In the winter of 1536 in Quebec, some of Jacques Cartier’s sailors were stricken with scurvy and the Iroquois Indians cured them by giving them tea brewed with Thuja occidentalis bark and needles (or was it something else, like the balsam fir, Abies balamea? Who knows?). What little vitamin C is in the bark and needles the boiling water should have destroyed. So how did the tea decoction cure them of extreme scurvy -near death- in just a couple of days? One possibility is that the tea contained a compound that substitutes for vitamin C, and this would be interesting because no substitutes have been discovered. Another possibility is that the tea contained a potent vitamin C cofactor or that and a substitute. However, is the story simply apocryphal? After all, some sailors also claimed to be cured of syphilis they had suffered with for years. Really? Get real. (J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2009; 5: 5. Published online 2009 Feb 2. doi:  10.1186/1746-4269-5-5 PMCID: PMC2647905. Arginine, scurvy and Cartier’s “tree of life” Don J Durzan)
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