Vitamins and Beauty Supplements

Vitamins and Beauty SupplementsVitamins  are  organic  compounds  essential for  growth  and   activity  in  small amounts. Dietary  supplements are minerals, herbs, and vitamins taken  to help increase  nutritional intake  and  daily food consumption. Today, American consumers spend millions of dollars  each year on vitamins and supplements that  promise everything from  sexual  vigor and  increased body  mass  to clear complexions and more  youthful skin.  Indeed, today’s  hope  in a jar is often  a magic  pill or supplement  that  touts scientific  authority.

Historical Uses

The use of minerals, health supplements, and vitamins stretches back to the herbal remedies of the  Sumerian, Chinese, and  Greek  societies. European apothecaries and Native American medicine men  were the predecessors to the modern herbalist. In the  late 1880s,  experiments were conducted to determine the  purpose of vitamins and  how they affected  the body. Scurvy became one  of the first diseases viewed  as a vitamin  deficiency  disease.  The  lack  of a micronutrient was  determined to be the  cause  of scurvy,  as physicians realized  that  the  intake  of citrus fruits  would  eliminate the  deadly  disease’s  effects. Continued research led medical doctors to  conclude that  vitamin  B deficiency  caused the  disease  known as beriberi. Other vitamins and  minerals would  soon  be discovered and  would  lead to a compiled list of the essential micronutrients known today, including their  effects on the body. By the early 1900s, American businesses began  to mass market vitamins and beauty  supplements.

During the  early 20th  century, scientists began  to associate vitamins with  an array of remarkable cures. The focus was primarily  on health concerns compounded by war,  poverty,  and  the  effects  of modern food  processing, which  threatened healthy diets. Advertisers and  manufacturers, however, quickly  played to middleclass  consumers, who  were  unlikely  to  be  suffering from  any  real  deficiencies. Nevertheless, the tenets of scientific motherhood ensured that middle-class female authority was based  on running the household and  that  included understanding nutritional needs  such as what vitamins and foods her family needed. From Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal  to  a daily dose  of Squibb’s Cod  Liver  Oil,  advertisements in the early 20th century successfully mixed fear with scientific discourse to ensure their  products became part of a family’s day-to-day consumption.

Manufacturers soon  made  the  leap from  concerns over the  family’s health to personal beauty. In 1937 Vitamins Plus, a mixture that included vitamins, liver extract, and iron, was sold to middle-class female consumers, but this time through the  department store  cosmetic counter. A month’s supply  cost  a little  less than three  dollars  and,  according to the  advertisements, it helped a woman’s makeup stay in place, her hair to hold  a curl, and  her nail polish  to resist chipping. At the same  time,  vitamin  D  soap  was advertised to  reduce wrinkles, blackheads, and pimples. From  cures  for acne  to anti-aging, beauty  and  health would  make  profits for vitamins and  supplements manufacturers, who  continued to  insist  what they  were  hawking was scientifically  proven. With  all the  false claims,  when  in the 1960s  and ’70s a derivative  of vitamin  A, retinoic acid, was discovered to be a successful treatment for acne,  it was celebrated as an iconic  moment. Marketed as Retin-A  by Johnson and  Johnson, the skin care product was not  only effective in diminishing acne,  but  also helped smooth skin texture and  reduce some  signs of aging.

Contemporary Significance

Since the 1990s, there  has been increasing interest in vitamins and herbal  supplements for health and  beauty. Hormones and  steroids were included in the  definition of dietary  supplements when  potential uses  for weight  loss  (synephrine), regulating sleep  function (melatonin), anti-aging (estrogen), and  muscle maintenance (creatine) were discovered. Whether the  prolonged use  of hormones or their  derivatives  is safe is controversial and  debated by scientists; many  health studies continue to study  them  for their  beneficial  effects. The  herbal  market extends  into natural supplements produced or isolated from plant  extracts or herbs. Phytotherapy is highly popular in European markets, and is still practiced among modern apothecaries. In underdeveloped regions, plant  derivatives  are often  the only  form  of pharmaceutical applications still in use.  General Nutrition Center (GNC)  is an  example  of the  many  nutrition companies that  sell health supplements. This  company began  selling  in health food  stores  and  is now  commonly found in malls.

Vitamins have found their niche in the diet as cofactors for enzymes and micronutrients that the body cannot make on its own. These include vitamin A, E, K, D, and the B complexes. Most  vitamins are provided by bacteria or normal daily food intake. Minerals and metals  like zinc and iron are usually  only taken  in prescribed amounts for deficiencies, but  are commonly found in multivitamins. Herbal supplements are commonly used in place or as the source of essential micronutrients. The  organic compounds are  digested by the  body  more  easily than chemically synthesized drugs. Hormones and  proteins are  continually used  in  bodybuilding and  for chemical imbalances, such  as in stress  relief and  sleeping  aids; they are also used  to ease the effects of menopause and stunted growth. Vitamins and supplements can be found for weight  loss (green  tea, chromium picolinate), skin treatments (vitamin  E), antioxidants (CoQ),  acne  treatment  (Echinacea), sexual enhancement  (ginseng), and  gender-specific treatments (pomegranate extract  for prostate care).  Honey, cinnamon, eucalyptus, garlic, and  ginger  are a few of the many  food  supplements used  for skin  treatments or herbal  medicines. The  market has been  so diverse and  expanded that  a health or beauty  supplement can be found for practically  any condition.

Scientists, however, especially  those  not  promoting their  own  products, often question the  effects  of many  of the  supplements and  other products, such  as crèmes, sold on the market today and even warn that  many of them  are unproven or unsafe. For example,  excessive amounts of vitamin  D and E can be dangerous. One  of the more  recent trends (although something that  was practiced in the ancient  world) is the  use of healthy foods  transformed into  miracle  creams. Brands such  as Origins, for example,  boast  the  creations of Dr. Andrew  Weil, who  uses mushrooms, ginger, and turmeric, as well as other food stuffs. Similarly tomatoes, spinach, pumpkin, cucumbers, and  chili  peppers have  all found their  way into cosmetic lines. How  much of a nutrient can be absorbed through the skin is debated. Even more problematic, some medical  professionals note  that skin allergies are quite  common, and  foodstuffs applied  to the  body  can  often  be the  culprit. Nevertheless, cosmetic counters, grocery  stores, and  specialized businesses like GNC  provide  outlets for many  nutrition companies who  supply  and  sell beauty supplements that  attempt to blur  beauty  and health benefits.

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