Popular Science

The three types of supplements you should never buy

An expert on vitamins tells us what to avoid.
vegetables in a capsule

Vitamins have become a mainstay of the modern American diet.

I recently interviewed Catherine Price, author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. The book is a habit-altering romp through the seemingly banal topic of vitamins.

Price got the idea for her book when her husband asked her the question, “What’s a vitamin?” and Price found that she didn’t have an answer. Vitamins, to spare you the suspense, are organic compounds that we tend to come across in food—and without which we would die. There are 13 human vitamins: A, C, D, E, K and seven B vitamins (thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyroxidine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12)). But if that was all Vitamania was about, it would have made for a short book. Instead Price explores how the discovery of vitamins has shaped our diet, and our perspective on health.

Although the book was published in 2015, it couldn’t feel more relevant today. From Gwyneth Paltrow to Alex Jones of Info Wars, it seems like everyone is promising that vitamins— and their creepy alter ego, —can soothe what ails us. Supplements are now a multi-billion-dollar industry that many say will continue to grow. But we're . Last year, U.S. life expectancy declined for the first time since 1993. How did we become a vitamin and supplement obsessed society, and why isn't that keeping us?

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