Stone-Agers didn't take vitamins, why should we?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

November 2005

"If you eat a normal diet you don't need vitamins." Until a few years ago that's what most physicians, including me, told their patients when they asked, "Should I take vitamins?" Unfortunately, a normal diet for humans is not available anywhere in the world, and certainly not in the supermarkets of Western countries.

The American Medical Association did an about-face in 2002 when it recommended that all Americans take a multivitamin/multimineral every day. It was a late acknowledgement that the normal diet for humans began to disappear when humans became farmers and returned less to the soil than what they took from it.

Before Homo sapiens learned how to grow crops instead of gathering them and to raise animals for food instead of hunting them, a normal diet was readily available. The body chemistry of humans developed according to the food that grew in their environment. During the Stone Age, people had an enormously varied diet, not one based on a half dozen species of grains. Not only did our ancestors choose from hundreds of different fruits, roots, nuts and vegetables but these plants contained thousands of micronutrients ranging from the vitamins we know today to the flavones, phenols, saponins and other chemicals that scientists are only now beginning to identify.

How varied is your vegetable intake? Your local market probably carries about 30 types of vegetables and half that many kinds of fruit - a far cry from the huge choice that your Stone Age ancestors had. Early hunters chased down dozens of different animals, from furry rodents to wooly mammoths. We choose today from a whopping total of three: cows, pigs and baby sheep. Even before humans developed the bow and arrow, traps and snares, hundreds of species of birds had found their way to the Stone Ager's cooking fire. We have only two choices: chicken and turkey.

The fruits and vegetables in your local market are big and juicy, and virtually without seeds or pits. They have thin rinds or skins. You'd never recognize their ancestors, which were small, thick-skinned, not very sweet and loaded with seeds. Modern agriculture has eliminated most of the beneficial fiber and has packed them with starch in order to provide us with taste and convenience.

Stone Agers ate things the day they were picked because they had no way to store foods. They didn't have pottery or baskets half a million years ago, either. The fruits or vegetables you ate today were probably picked several days ago - perhaps much earlier than that. You know how much better really fresh fruits and vegetables taste. Just like flavor does, nutrients disappear quickly after harvest.

Physicians have identified vitamin and mineral deficiencies in every age group. Breast-fed babies sometimes lack zinc because their mothers don't get enough from their own diets; breastfed infants whose mothers don't get sufficient sun exposure to manufacture vitamin D are at risk of bone-deforming rickets; almost no teenage girls get the calcium they need; 60 percent of women of childbearing age fail to take in the recommended amount of folic acid; elderly persons are often deficient in vitamin B12.

Eating a diet without vitamin supplements is like running an automobile on cheap gasoline. You might pay a high price in maintenance.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.