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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

The bumper sticker on the car in front of me read, "I didn't fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian."

The Rusty Saber never has been kind to vegetarians because they can be so blasted overbearing. With the possible exception of reformed smokers, they are the most overbearing people I know. They are so wonderful because they don't eat meat. I've never been convinced that a vegetarian diet is more nutritious than that of a sensible meat eater. Those of us at the top of the food chain are carnivores. Watch yourselves, vegetarians.

According to a trend that is sweeping America, vegetarians who augment their diets with vitamins and herbs are on the right track. Although I doubt the need to give up all meat, the good health incentives that create vegetarians are in the trendy mainstream of American thought.

Vitamins, herbal dietary supplements or additives, natural medicines, whatever you want to call them, have become the in thing. If you don't take some form of these products, you may be left out of a lot of conversations at parties.

It's difficult to nail down the exact number of users. I've seen estimates that as many as 20 million Americans are on some kind of diet that includes various dietary supplements; many more not on diets take them. Currently it is a $13 billion industry, which is nearly triple what it was three years ago.

People who are serious adherents of vitamins and herbal supplements aren't just interested in some vague, pie-in-the-sky "healthy lifestyle." They take specific products with the intent of preventing or curing specific maladies. True believers are just that, true believers.

These supplements are available over the counter, meaning no doctor's prescription is necessary. It also means that most haven't been subjected to scientific research or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. True believers will counter that many have been researched in other countries, and others have been observed over time to have healing or preventative powers.

For years, I have taken a multivitamin. The label listing ingredients is amazing. A total of 25 vitamins and minerals are listed. Of those, 17 provide 100 percent of daily requirements. In small print below, 73 additional mineral ingredients are listed. That's 98 ingredients.

The pill is pretty big it's about like swallowing a violin but considering what's in it, it could be as big as a bass fiddle. In my mind's eye, I can visualize a tiny vitamin traffic cop in the stomach directing all 98 elements to the proper place so they can do their job.

I firmly believe that the advocates of some supplements are onto something, as long as they include their physicians in their health plans. It would be nice, however, if the supplement scene weren't so complicated.

I've been told that my multivitamin a day isn't enough. There are literally hundreds of products on the market, and a compelling case can be built for using all of them. If you tried to buy them all, you'd go bankrupt; if not, you'd choke to death trying to swallow the first round of pills.

The Journal of the American Medical Association, for the first time, did some research on alternative medical therapies, including "herbal mixtures and vitamins." One research finding supported what the vitamin-herbal true believers have known for a long time: Saw palmetto (berries from a shrub indigenous to the southeast seaboard of the U.S.) appears to shrink enlarged prostates.

Saw palmetto is an example of the confusion. Some sources say only pure saw palmetto capsules will work; but they differ on the daily dosage is it two per day or four? Others contend that a formula of saw palmetto and other herbs is more effective. But the problem is that there are several different recommended formulas. Confusing.

We already know that certain vitamins will help prevent certain maladies. That the AMA has conducted preliminary research is a sign that the millions of Americans who are on a regimen of vitamins and herbal compounds may be on the right track. If these products are as good as some think they are, it would be nice if we could know which to take, and how much we should take, when.

Vegetarians of the world, you can join me at the top of the food chain if you'd like. Now, lighten up!

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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