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Are More Pills the Answer?

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At a recent breakfast, I watched in fascination and bemusement as a friend popped a couple of vitamin C pills into her mouth instead of taking fruit or fruit juice. “It’s much more convenient” was her mind-boggling rationalization.

Cut to another scene. My godparents, who are in their late sixties and the very picture of health physically and mentally, packed a mini-bag of pills for a recent trip. “What’s wrong with both of you?” eyes widened and brows raised, I demanded to know. Amid chortles and chuckles, godpa said, “Let me tell you a story. When Ron (his eldest son) hit forty last week, I sent him a birthday card with a note, ‘Welcome to my world. It’s time you start taking twelve pills per day.’ He also wanted to know what’s wrong with me. Well, that’s the thing, there’s nothing wrong with us. That’s why we have continued to take a dozen pills, give or take a few, for the past twenty-five years or so.”

An educational briefing on the mini-bag’s contents ensued: mini-aspirins (for preventing heart disease and stroke), glucosamine and chondroitin (for strengthening the joints), beta-sitosterol (for prostate health), vitamins (B, C, and E), and nutrition pills including antioxidants, calcium, omega-3, and iron. These orange, yellow, white, and bicolored pills form their preemptive strategy: fortify different parts of the body and wipe out any problem before it even has a chance to rear its ugly head. (Incidentally, they look a decade younger than their age. Perhaps it’s the genes. Perhaps, as I wonder at times since then, it’s really the pills.)

Lately, it seems to me that pill popping is fast becoming fashionable in our society, young and old. Convenience is an oft-cited reason for popping vitamin and nutrition pills instead of balancing one’s diet. That and early prevention are the buzzwords of drug and health product companies. So people are grabbing those bottles lining supermarket and pharmacy shelves like they are on fire sale.

And how can I not mention diet pills. Thanks to the superficial society that we live in, the dizzying array of diet pills endorsed by svelte celebrities have become, for many women (and even men), the perceived path to social and career success, not to say the easy way out of exercising and sweating it out. Disturbing news about pill-poppers suffering from organ failures or other serious side effects are conveniently (that’s the word again) consigned to the farthest corner of the mind. Warnings from dieticians and doctors barely make an impression.

Is the rat race making us gluttons for shortcuts and quick fixes? Do vitamin and nutrition pills really work and, if so, how effective are they? Are we unwittingly turning into guinea pigs in the name of medical advances? For me—daughter of a Chinese physician, sister of a pharmacist and homeopath brothers—these are the typical stuff for dinner-table conversations. Unfortunately, we have no answers. We do, however, recommend this: add two doses of moderation to the pills and tablets that you are popping. 


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