Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cod Liver Oil, Etc.:

There's a wonderful website called Medpundit. The doctor (a woman by the way) who runs it delves deep into the ills and outs of running her rather computerized office. She also eloquently probes the statistical weaknesses in "studies" that prove we should all take yet another drug for something else. Her main page displays a quote by Anton Chekhov: "When many cures are offered for a disease, it means the disease is not curable."

I think about this quote whenever I look at the vitamins and herbals in my favorite supermarket. There are nearly 100 running feet of shelf space stoked with a thousand concoctions, and clearly, according to Chekhov, their mere existence proves that most of them are useless.

But the vitamin/herbal business is very clever. They toss out so many items, aimed at so many of our deepest concerns, that for every person there's some item that will slither through our mental defenses. I used to be proud I had the sense to take just two pills a day (a multivitamin plus something prescribed by my doctor), but then, oh, this one looked like it wouldn't hurt, and that one might help, and currently I take six or seven morning pills daily.

Of all these, nothing fascinates me more than cod liver oil pills. A few of my classmates took cod liver oil when I was in elementary school. We knew who they were, their breath smelled horrible ALL morning. As an eight year old I swore I would never take that stuff, and I fought off my parent's attempts to get me to try it. But now I take a cod liver oil pill every day, just in case there's something to this "Omega 3" business. There's been a big technological change of course, both in marketing the darn things to me, and, best of all, in making them tasteless and odorless.

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