I have heard it told from a Harvard authority who ought to know that the biggest single benefit to public health in the last few centuries has come almost entirely from better public sewage practices.
But in the realm of the army of medical researchers we fund annually, surely one of the most important discoveries of all time was an accident—the existence of antibiotics. These compounds, which we depend on for our health, are not to be taken for granted. I had an East German friend whose cousin died because the Communist Authorities had refused to issue her antibiotics for an ear infection. I guess good German socialists were supposed to be tougher than mere bacteria. Antibiotics are head and shoulders above all other medicinal compounds put together in their value to our health.
Which is not to slight other more recent discoveries which have proven to be quite beneficial. I myself can no longer live a fulfilled life without daily doses of Ranitidine and Prozac. I would never voluntarily give these up. Andrew Sullivan is alive only because of recently discovered anti-viral compounds.
Yet despite the clear benefits of medicinal compounds for solving health problems, there has been a quiet revolution in medicine in recent years, a revolution in the very way in which we view disease.
A four-year clinical trial involving 1,200 women found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn't take it, a drop so large — twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking — it almost looks like a typographical error….
One of the researchers who made the discovery, professor of medicine Robert Heaney of Creighton University in Nebraska, says vitamin D deficiency is showing up in so many illnesses besides cancer that nearly all disease figures in Canada and the U.S. will need to be re-evaluated. "We don't really know what the status of chronic disease is in the North American population," he said, "until we normalize vitamin D status.
My mother informed me the other day that B-12 deficiency runs in her family, and it might account for various health problems. Maybe vitamins are an answer after all?