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October 17, 1977

Vitamin Abuse

JAMA. 1977;238(16):1762. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03280170056033

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When Casimir Funk introduced the term "vitamine" in 1913 (later to be changed to "vitamin"), he may have made an unfortunate choice. Vita, Latin for life, has a charismatic sound. It suggests vitality, élan vital, a vital force. To this charisma can in part be attributed the popularity of vitamins, which are consumed in excessive amounts not only when they may be of some benefit, but also when they are utterly useless. Massive doses of vitamin A for osteoarthritis and neuropsychiatric disorders, of vitamin D for osteoporosis, of vitamin C for prevention of colds and influenza, of vitamin B1 for "neuritis", of vitamin E for sterility and coronary heart disease, and of the pseudovitamin B17 (laetrile) for cancer are all conspicuous examples of vitamin therapy misuse.

It may be argued, of course, that misuse is not necessarily abuse. It may be said that megavitamin therapy is a reassuring placebo,