Free Shipping To Australia & NZ For Orders Over $99
WOOCS 2.2.5

Sonya Pemberton – The Truth About Vitamins

Watch the full interview below or listen to the full episode on your iPhone HERE.

Stu: This week we welcome Sonya Pemberton to the show. Sonya is one of Australia’s leading factual television producers specialising in science. She has written, directed and produced over 50 hours of broadcast documentary and executive produced many award-winning factual series and one-off programs.

In this interview we discuss Sonya’s latest documentary Vitamania and ask if high street vitamins are actually healthy… enjoy.

Audio Version

downloaditunesListen to Stitcher Questions we ask in this episode:

  • How can we tell if our supplements are of a good quality?
  • Were there any alarming discoveries regarding vitamins while making the film?
  • Many vitamins proclaim to be 100% natural, is this just a marketing ploy?

Get More of Sonya Pemberton

If you enjoyed this, then we think you’ll enjoy this interview:

Full Transcript

Stu

00:03 Hey, this is Stu from 180 Nutrition and welcome to another episode of the health sessions. It’s here that we connect with the world’s best experts in health, wellness, and human performance in an attempt to cut through the confusion around what it actually takes to achieve a long lasting health. Now I’m sure that’s something that we all strive to have. I certainly do. Before we get into the show today, you might not know that we make products too. That’s right, we’re into whole food nutrition and have a range of super foods and natural supplements to help support your day. If you are curious, want to find out more, just jump over to our website, that is 180nutrition.com.au and take a look. Okay, back to the show.

00:44 This week. I’m excited to welcome Sonia Pemberton. Sonia is one of Australia’s leading documentary producers and she specializes in making compelling high quality science films. Her films have been screened in dozens of international festivals and won more than 70 major awards, including an Emmy for outstanding science programming. In this episode we discuss Sonya’s latest film, Vitamania that digs deep into the vitamin industry. We chat about the safety of these products, the current regulations, and ask the question if we actually need them at all. The movie completely reshaped my opinion on the humble vitamin pill and I thoroughly recommend watching it. I hope you enjoyed this episode as much as I did. Let’s get over to Sonya. Hey guys, this is Stu from 180 Nutrition and I am delighted to welcome Sonya Pemberton to the show. Good morning, Sonya. How are you?

Sonya

01:40 Hello Stu. I’m very well. Thank you.

Stu

01:42 Good stuff. Well, thank you first up for sharing some of your time with us today. And before we get into the conversation, I would love it if you could just tell our listeners a little bit about who you are, what you do, and perhaps why you do it as well.

Sonya

01:56 Sure. So my name is Sonya Pemberton. I’m a writer, director and producer of science documentaries. I’ve made about 50 films I think now, and I focus on science because it’s something I’m really interested in and my background, my family background is science. I originally went into studying medicine and didn’t last very long, moved over to film and television. But I’ve kept a passion for all of that. So I’ve made lots and lots of science films about lots and lots of subjects and what I see myself as, is a translator of science. I will look at vast quantities of material over years and talk to world experts and Nobel laureates and things like that, and I will help get them to help me understand something and then I kind of regurgitate it, if you like, to film.

02:43 And the films go worldwide and they’re international films and we are lucky enough to earn a lot of awards including an Emmy, which I’m very proud of. To win a US Emmy is tricky. So we’re very pleased with that. And yeah, we have a little company of four people in Melbourne, and we’re really focused on telling good stories of complicated science.

Stu

03:03 Yep. Fantastic. Well, look, congratulations on the Emmy.[inaudible 00:03:06] What an achievement?

Sonya

03:07 Thank you. I got it behind me.

Stu

03:09 Oh Wow. I love it.

Sonya

03:12 I might actually block it, although [inaudible 00:03:12] look pretentious.

Stu

03:15 So this morning it would be great for us to talk about your latest movie or film. Now I didn’t know how to pronounce this because I’m from England, so we talk about vitamins and the film was called Vitamania. So do I call it Vitamania or-

Sonya

03:32 You can in fact my father, who’s English, he calls it Vitamania and I call it Vitamania. It’s just one of those things.

Stu

03:40 Brilliant. So I watched the movie last night which was excellent. And you also featured Catherine Price on the show as well. I spoke to Catherine a couple of weeks ago and we had a chat about one of her books outside of the Vitamania stuff and then I delved into her other books and then this led me down the rabbit hole to you. So, really, really enjoyed the movie and it was a huge eyeopener for me because we’re living in this world at the moment where we are subjective or subject to so many mixed messages in terms of health and wellness and what should we eat and what pills should we pop. Vitamins is a big one because everybody under the Sun thinks that taking a daily vitamin is perhaps the best thing to do for their health. And this film really takes us down a journey about where vitamins came from and gives us a bit of a conclusion at the end, which we won’t talk about. We want people to watch the movie.

Sonya

04:42 People explore it.

Stu

04:43 Exactly. Let them explore. So, could you just run us down a little bit of a journey on the vitamin route as to when were they first available to the general public?

Sonya

04:56 Okay. Well, I’ll start with why I got interested in it, if you don’t mind, because it’s [inaudible 00:05:02] to that answer. And basically I thought making a film about vitamins was going to be the easiest film of my career. And I’ve made films about nuclear weapons and uranium and about vaccines and about cancer, and I’ve been to NASA … This has been the most complicated one and because the science is really confusing and somewhat divided and there’s lots of debating. So the reason we really went in, it was a year’s worth of research to get this and then three years in production, was because it’s such a huge area and a surprising area.

05:38 And one of the first things I discovered was that a gentleman by the name of Dr. Casimir Funk, you’ve got to know that name, in 1911. He came up with the word vitamin. Now he wasn’t the first to discover them, but he was the first to have the idea that there was a group of nutrients without which, we got sick. He gave them a name and called them vitamins. So really the first surprise I had was that it’s barely a hundred years old. I mean 1911 he came up with it, he published it in 1912.

06:12 And the word was so catchy as Catherine says in her book, and obviously in interview we’ve got lots and lots of industry material with her. But the word vitamin took on a life of its own, because it was such a clever word, ‘Vita’ for life, and at that stage ‘Amine’ for containing nitrogen. We dropped the ‘e’ later because it used to have an e on the end. We dropped that because we found out they don’t all contain nitrogen. But this word took off in about 1912, and spawned an extraordinary industry. Now interestingly, Funk is also the first person to actually invent the first vitamin pill that was accepted by the American Medical Association. And it was in the 1920s, it was called [inaudible 00:06:55] And it was Vitamin A and Vitamin D and they made it from mashing up basically cod liver oil.

07:03 So the very first vitamin pill was made from squishing masses of cod liver oil together and getting the vitamin A and D out of it. I’m simplifying hugely. But it was really expensive and really time consuming, and it was very clear that making the vitamin products from these natural sources just was not viable as an industry. And so what happened is in stepped the pharmaceutical companies and the pharmaceutical companies saw an opportunity to use these products, these newly discovered products called vitamins.

07:33 And we ended up discovering 13, but back in the 1920s and 30s, I think we only had five or six around then. We’re discovering [inaudible 00:07:40] all the time. And various pills then started to be produced. But the big shift was just before the Second World War. They learned how to synthesize or make them manmade versions of the vitamins. And this is really important because at this point we didn’t need to rely on the natural food products anymore, we could make them in a chemical lab. And it was far more efficient and far more cost efficient as well. And so now we’re making millions of tons. By the 1950s this industry is enormous and people are making artificially made, synthetically made vitamins in labs all over the world.

Stu

08:24 Wow. What a journey. I always struggle with vitamins, vitamins because, and this is just my personal opinion, but I think that extracting something from a food matrix that I personally believe is so complex and I don’t think we have a true grasp on what eating an apple actually does for us.

Sonya

08:47 So true.

Stu

08:47 And then thinking that we can just extract one of these things and that all the other stuff going on just doesn’t matter and we only need that one thing. I always struggle with that and I think surely it can’t be true. So I guess my question is, do you think the industry has changed since the very first vitamin pill to where we are now, because science has got so much better and more advanced now, but I wonder whether the manufacturing of the pills actually has?

Sonya

09:15 Well, that’s a good question. What I find really interesting about that is that when you had this first big explosion of vitamin pills in the 1950s, people wanted these pretty little glass bottles on their kitchen tables. They put them up there with the salt and pepper and you shook it on your cereal basically and on your meal. And it was marketed at women because women are more aware of feeding the families usually and health conscious. Back in the 1950s they were marketing at women. So it would help with morale and give you pep and give you vim and energy, and all of the ads are really similar to today. It’s really fun. But even in the 1950s, the people who actually discovered them and worked out what their chemical structures were, even these inventors, like a very famous man called McCallum, he started to go, “This industry is going out of control compared to where the science is at.”

10:06 And what I think we’ve been seeing for many, many, many decades now is that the science is trying to catch up with the marketing. The marketing is way ahead. It will cure this, it will change that, it will give you more of this, more of that and the other. And actually every single major scientific study you look at shows that they do very, very little for your average person who’s relatively healthy. If you’re eating a good diet, or even a basically good diet, like it doesn’t have to be kale and super foods. If you’re eating even the [inaudible 00:10:38] veggie kinds of things, most people are getting what they need. And so every study is saying, “Look, vitamins are amazing.” These molecules that we’ve discovered, this actual chemical molecules called vitamins. And that’s the thing people forget, even in their natural form, they’re chemical molecules. And all we’ve done with big pharmaceutical companies, have learned how to turn those in to man-made products.

11:04 Now you can argue they do that for the best purposes, and the best reasons to start off, and that was to supplement people going to war and all of those sort of things, and try and boost the health of the nation. But study after study has shown that in most cases if you’ve got a good diet and you’re a relatively healthy person, it makes no difference whatsoever. So the marketing has gone ahead of the science. And also, I think what’s happened in recent years is people don’t want you to remember that they’re chemical molecules, even the natural form. People don’t like the word chemical, it’s become uncool. I mean, I think it’s silly, I’m science trained so I think a chemical is oxygen. Water is made up of chemicals, all those cliches that we all know are true. So beer is made up of chemicals, and to say chemical free something is a bit odd. It’s like saying gene free tomatoes, of course they’ve got genes in them. They’re tomatoes, how did they grow?

11:54 It’s just that we have a weird relationship with language and health at the moment as well, which I don’t think it’s helping a genuine scientifically focused conversation. But where it’s landed now is 1 billion people take a vitamin product regularly. That’s extraordinary, a billion people. And about 50% of Australians, at least 50% of Australians and Americans, and a bit less in Europe, about 40% in most parts in Europe, take a vitamin product every day. Now this is extraordinary. So we are popping chemical molecules that are made in laboratories, mostly in Asia, vast number of them made in China, with very few regulations around really checking them before they go on sale for safety or efficacy. There’s no regulation that says they have to be checked for safety or efficacy before they go on sale here in Australia or in America or in Europe.

12:51 I find that astounding because people are taking them every day sometime. And so the whole point of the film is not to rock them as you know, we actually celebrate when they’re useful. For people who are genuinely vitamin deficient, they are lifesavers. For women who are pregnant, taking folic acid, which is a synthetic form of folate, which is B9. This has really had extraordinarily good health outcomes. And for some people who have really serious say Vitamin A deficiencies where they can go blind, and the 250,000 kids a year are estimated to go blind from vitamin A deficiency in developing nations. So it’s an astonishingly high number, that’s the conservative number. And so for those people having a Vitamin A supplement, carefully targeted and specifically dealing with a deficiency, that’s fantastic news for people’s health. But we have somehow conflated this idea of severe vitamin deficiency, add a vitamin, so a little bit is good. And then going, “Oh, adding more is better.”

13:54 And in fact the majority of the world’s evidence now is showing that those of us that are lucky enough to live in fairly wealthy nations and eat good food have got issues with overdosing on vitamins now, not underdosing. And in France and Germany, they’re so worried about it, they’ve started a project called a neutral vigilance project. And they are looking at people who are taking vitamins just in their normal food. Having fortified foods like milks and bread and things that can be fortified. Some of them are mandated to get fortified and some are just voluntary. And then they’re popping pills or juices and lotions and all that with added vitamins. And what they’re discovering is people are having hundreds, sometimes thousands of times the daily recommended dose. And again, these are chemicals. They’re just chemical compounds. So do you really want to be taking a 100, 200, 500 times a daily dose? I think that’s a question we should be asking.

Stu

14:46 Yeah, you make a really good point, and I’m not going to give away too much of the movie, but last night there was a shot with a plate, and the plate showed the dose of all of the vitamins and it wasn’t what I had expected in terms of … I had imagined that you’d have this beautiful spread of seafood and salad and veggies and fruits, all of that stuff. And it’s like, “Well look, here is your daily recommendation of all of the vitamins that you need.” But it was quite different to that. And so I can absolutely see it and especially in our circles, in the health and wellness sector where people are very mindful of what they eat in terms of they drink their green juices and smoothies and have lots of veggies and then they supplement on top of that socially. Yeah. I can see that, that could become a problem.

Sonya

15:41 And I make a big point in this film. I don’t criticize anyone that that there’s some mothers and some people in there who’ve made mistakes about too few vitamins and there’s some who’ve made some mistakes about too many vitamins in the film. And I’m very, very aware that I don’t dismiss people who do take vitamin product because most of the time they’re trying to do the right thing. Everyone’s really trying to do the right thing. And the more health conscious you are, and the better fed you are, the more likely you are to take vitamins supplements.

Stu

16:12 Yes.

Sonya

16:13 And it’s an inverse proportion to your need. So the people worldwide who need vitamin supplements the most are the people that take them least. And the people who need them least, take them most.

Stu

16:26 Yeah. It’s ironic, isn’t it?

Sonya

16:29 It’s ironic and I think we all just need a little bit of a reminder. Where I’ve come to with this, is that I think vitamins are amazing. I think vitamin molecules are full of wonder, I mean all of them, and their discovery and their synthesis and 10 Nobel prizes have been won for vitamin science. Now we haven’t won that many as far as I know, up to date on say, immunology. This is extraordinary amount of science. But the bottom line is we know how powerful they are in food and as you said

17:01 … mine is. We know how powerful they are in food, and as you said, the food matrix is absolutely critical. But when you take them out of food and put them into a pill, they don’t seem to work the same way.

Stu

17:16 Yeah.

Sonya

17:17 This is really important. One of the things we didn’t have time for in the film is … and I spoke to quite [inaudible 00:17:20] people about this, these days there’s a tendency to not take pills and to put drops under your tongue. I spoke to a couple of the pharmaceutical companies, because much of the vitamin companies are really pharmaceutical companies or owned by pharmaceutical companies, the vast majority you could track them back to pharmaceutical companies, and that not a bad thing. It’s just, they make medicines and they make vitamins. But they like to make you feel like as if … really, most of the time or lots of the time.

17:46 But what I discovered was the droplets of vitamins under your tongue, and one person after another would say to me, “Oh, but it enters your bloodstream faster.” I’m going, “Okay, I’m sure it does. Is that good?” They’re going, “What do you mean?” I’m going, “Well, we’ve evolved to eat food and it goes to our guts and gets processed by very, very complex bio-feedback loops in our gut and it goes out where we need it. Why do we want to bypass our gut? “Oh, because it gets to our bloodstream faster.” Yes, I understand that, but what is the health benefit of getting to … “Well it gets to your systems faster.” I’m going, “But yes, but then how do all those biofeedback loops work and how does that food matrix get tapped into?” Turns out they don’t know. What they’d say to me is, “Look, Sonya, it’s a theory at the moment. We think this is a good way of taking vitamins.” I’m going, “It’s a theory. But you’ve got all these products on the market and you’ve got lots of people thinking this is advantageous, and forgetting that vitamins traditionally go through a whole lot of processes that allow them to be released into our bodies in a sequence of events that is synergistic and holistic. That’s the basis of millions of years of evolution. Why do we want to bypass this? Nobody has given me a good answer.

Stu

19:04 You make a really good point. I think that yeah, evolution has created the answer, and it is that yes, we have a digestive system and it just takes time, and it takes time for a very good reason. Like you said, it might be the assimilation of all of the nutrients. It just requires a certain time period to be the most effective, but yeah.

Sonya

19:26 Yeah. We don’t know what happens when you’re able to take these things at quantities that you’d never been able to take in nature. One chap I met was taking Vitamin C at a level that was 1,000 times his daily dose, every day. Another person was having intravenous Vitamin C at the equivalent of 10,000 oranges every four days. Now, they’re measuring him, this guy’s on a clinical trial, and it’s on our website, that clip is not in the film because we just couldn’t fit it all in the film. But the jury’s out, and as the scientists who are doing the work are saying, “The jury’s out, we don’t know yet.” There may be some advantages, there may not be. At the moment, we are guessing.

20:05 I guess that’s the thing. It’s only a hundred-year-old science, you know, and we’ve got a lot more to learn. The power of food is extraordinary. As you said about the apple, I remember reading one study that said there were over a thousand phytochemicals in an apple, of which about 20 we’ve actually named.

Stu

20:25 Oh, crikey.

Sonya

20:25 So what are the rest doing? The moment we say there’s 13 vitamins, who’s to say there’s only 13? We may discover there are other, more chemical molecules in food that we need to survive and without which we get very sick and die. We might have to say there’s 40 or 20 or maybe in 50 years’ time it will be a hundred vitamins, I don’t know. I doubt it, but there might be a few more.

20:50 Thinking that this is done and dusted and that all these products on the shelves have perfectly worked out and perfectly studied … there’s lots of people studying them, no question, but for healthy people who eat a good diet, really the jury is out on whether or not they do us any real good.

Stu

21:07 Yeah, definitely. Also, I guess there’s the angle that my body will more than likely process vitamins in a very different way to your body because we’re also bio-individual and there isn’t a magic pill that suits everyone. Sometimes we need to take that into consideration too, just [inaudible 00:21:29]

Sonya

21:29 Gender, age, sometimes even racial demographics seem to affect it. Tim Spector’s in the film, he’s written an amazing book, if you haven’t interviewed him, The Diet Myth …

Stu

21:41 Yes.

Sonya

21:41 No actually [inaudible 00:21:42] dieting, it’s about food and it’s really interesting. I also said to him, “Why did you call it The Diet Myth?” But he means that in the old-fashioned word, you know, what you eat, you consume. He is a geneticist and he studied 22,000 sets of twins and he’s looked at genetic differences in how you process food in twins, identical twins, and it’s different. So you’re quite right, this idea that we can all take the same pill is a bit absurd.

Stu

22:09 Absolutely. I’ve got twin girls, and they’re chalk and cheese. They really are chalk and cheese, yeah. We’re all quite different. I got a question about the quality of supplements, vitamins and supplements in store, because I kept wandering to my local IGA and there could be 10, 20 different varieties of any set vitamin starting from $6 all the way to $50. How could I tell if I’m getting better value of quality for the $50 versus the $5?
Sonya: 22:53 That’s such a good question, and everybody asks me, you know, “Which one should I take?” I can’t answer that is the short, annoying answer to that question. Because A, I haven’t tested them all. There is a fantastic website in America called Consumer Lab, and you can sign up and you can get extra privileges if you’re a journalist, and they’ve done the analysis on lots of product by product comparison. They’re very fair, and they’re not funded by anybody that you need to be worried about. I think they’re actually funded by people who want to run tests. So they’ve got some [inaudible 00:23:25] information.

Sonya

23:25 But as a rule of thumb, after three years of looking into this, what I’ve come down to is these are chemical molecules called vitamins, the vast majority are synthetic. The vast majority. Let’s take Vitamin C. Vitamin C, ascorbic acid naturally in fruit and various vegetables, ascorbic acid, still called the same thing made synthetically, we now know that 90% of this is now made in China .. we searched that quite easily … and made in water from China and manufactured in plants, chemical factories, and goes through a lot of processes under their regime.

24:07 Just be aware of what it’s … that’s how it’s done. Now that supplies most of the Vitamin C and the vast majority of pills. Raw materials inside your product, when you go back to the basics … not only extras they’ve added, because remember, there’s only a dot you need in a pill, the rest is all the additives — so cellulose, rice flour, occasionally chalk, things like that are put into the pills, and inside, tiny little amounts of the actual raw vitamin materials. Most of them seem to be sourced from suppliers in Asia, and then they’re brought out to countries like Australia and then put into pills and marketed and then sold to us. So how do I know if the one that’s been brought in by the mum and dad, this little shop that you know, only make very specialized little fancy things called My Perfect Vitamins or something, and the big companies. I don’t know the answer.

25:05 Couple of things that I have discovered is the companies that have huge systems around them have a lot to lose, and I would imagine that they can afford to take extraordinary care in those products. And so looking at good quality manufacturing processes, now we’re very lucky in Australia, even though the raw materials might be the same raw materials that anybody gets anywhere in the world, when these raw materials come into Australia, we have a set of regulations that say that the companies are supposed to check them for good manufacturing process. They’re supposed to be what they say they are. They’re supposed to have the right amounts in them and so on and so forth. We’re much better off than the US, but it’s still the same raw materials most of the time. We have these some checks and balances.

25:55 Now what’s really shocking to me is there are no laws in Australia that require vitamin products to be tested for safety or effectiveness before they go on sale. Now I said that very carefully and very specifically because there’s no requirement. Somebody could choose to do it. I’m not aware if they’re doing it, but they could choose to do it, but there’s not requirement, so the law doesn’t mean they have to be. It’s a trust-based system. All of the vitamin products in our shelves are trust-based system, and much more so in the US. In Europe, they’ve got tighter controls again. In fact Germany says you have to print it to prove it … sorry, prove it to print it. So if you haven’t got that actual scientific studies that say “This product will help you with this ailment,” you can’t put in on the label. People are saying that maybe we need to toughen up our laws a little bit more in Australia to keep them in line with that.

26:49 For example, you have to jump through a lot of hoops in America, in Australia and around the world to get toothpaste allowed on the market or [inaudible 00:26:57]. You can still buy them on the shelf, no one’s saying you have to get a medical prescription for them, but they have to jump through a lot of hoops. Vitamin products don’t have to jump through the same degree of hoops. I think that’s a pity because the more and more … the industry used to be about 4,000 products back in the 1970s; it’s now 85,000 products [inaudible 00:27:17]. Catherine Price got that estimate. It seems the most accurate one we’ve got at the moment, it might be up to 90,000 by now. That’s vitamins and all supplements, dietary supplements. The fact that these don’t have to be required for safety or efficacy before sale, I think worries me.

27:35 The other thing here in Australia, the TGA, the [inaudible 00:27:40] group are actually responsible for ensuring that we have the best kind of checks and balances, and they do some important stuff. We have a whole briefing document in our website. Now they will tell you that they do post market surveillance of vitamin products and other supplements, and they do. The rate of non-compliance in the last two years has been 80%.

Stu

28:03 Oh boy.

Sonya

28:05 Now, the vast majority of that 80% are just wrong labeling, bigger claims that they should make, incorrect amount … that it says it’s got this amount and it’s actually got this amount in it. Only around 10% is actually faulty products, so products that don’t contain what they say they contain. 10% is a worry, but 80% non-compliance over the 500-odd products that they tested last year and the year before, that tells you that we don’t have enough checks and balances in place at the moment, I think. That’s my personal opinion. All of that information is on our website and it’s also on the TGA website, you just have to find how to click through to it.

28:46 We’re really lucky. I don’t want for a second to go, “Oh my God, you should be terrified if your vitamin’s [inaudible 00:28:51].” No, that would be silly. Some people really need to … if you’re living on pizza or just living on hamburgers and chips five nights a week, you might have a problem and might need to do something. But I want people just to think about them and go, there’s some risk. There’s some risk of overdose, there’s some risk of faulty products or badly made products, there’s some risk of contraindications with other medicines. Vitamin products are not a no risk proposition. That’s the thing I think we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten they’re chemical molecules that can be very powerful, so use them wisely.

Stu

29:29 That’s good advice. I’m seeing now in the merchants, on the shelves in the supermarkets of vitamins that are labeled “100% natural.” I’d like to hear your thoughts on that because I know that that is such an ambiguous phrase, and we’re almost store blind to it now. But what are your thoughts that on part of a vitamin?
Sonya: 29:53 We went looking for the definition of natural, legally and in terms of a regulation, and to cut to the chase, there is none. Virtually no country on Earth has an operational definition of the word “natural” and you can have synthetic products inside your jar of vitamins and still put “natural” on the label and you’re not breaking any law.

30:18 Right, okay. That’s weird.

Sonya

30:21 There’s no legal or regulatory definition of the word “natural” that we are able to find in Australia, the US, or parts of Europe.

Stu

30:29 Got it, okay.

Sonya

30:30 Same at Catherine’s book, there’s other people that have done the same. At the moment, it’s just one of … it’s like … the word “chemical” is the other side. We can define a chemical. It’s come to mean something else. The word “natural” has come to mean “I think this is made of swished up oranges or bits of broccoli.” You know, that’s what people think the word natural means, it comes from the natural source.

30:53 There are some very good manufacturers that are very specific and say, “This product contains no synthetic ingredients.” That’s very specific, and that binds them in terms of regulation. But just putting “natural” or “ethical” or “health” doesn’t mean anything by our law. I find that deeply shocking.
Stu: 31:19 Yeah, totally. Well it’s that bubble, isn’t it. It’s the health supplement industry, and oftentimes …

31:28 It’s a hundred billion-dollar a your global industry right now, and it’s estimated … when I got that number, and we worked on that number very carefully using a lot of world experts, it’s actually an underestimate. The estimate at the moment is sitting around at about $130 billion US a year, but by 2020, two years away, it’s estimated to be $200 billion, so double in less than five years. When you look at the curve of the sales, by the industry itself and by people who analyze the industry, it’s going up like this. What’s happening is everybody is desperate to do the right thing and wanting to be as health as possible, and wanting to do the right thing for their kids, because one of the fastest growing areas is kids’ vitamins, gummy bear and putting them in lunch boxes and things like that. People are really trying to do the right thing, but they’re not necessarily asking the hard questions of these products.

Stu

32:20 Yeah, it’s a tricky one and I think … because many people perhaps are looking for the magic pill, and as I have found out — I’ve been working in this industry for 10 years — that there certainly isn’t a magic pill, but there are things that you can do to address all of the pillars that feed into health, in terms of sleep and movement and stress and lifestyle, and nutrition is one of those things. But yeah, no magic pill.

Sonya

32:46 Yeah, and you know NASA spent 55 years trying to develop the perfect pill to take into space, and you know the answer to that because you’ve watched the pill.

Stu

32:53 I do.

Sonya

32:58 The people who spent the most time going, “Come on, we’d love to send pills into space.”

Stu

33:01 Yeah. No.

Sonya

33:03 We talked to the experts to find out what happened to that idea.
Stu: 33:06 Yeah, no, it was fascinating, and I just want everybody to watch this movie because it’s … yeah, definitely an eye opener into very different areas of the whole history of this and how it relates to us as well.

Stu

33:19 What … so, the best way to determine if we need a supplement. I mean, would just be a trip to the doctor’s and some blood tests, do you think?

Sonya

33:28 Well, I’m not a doctor.

Stu

33:31 No.

Sonya

33:31 I can’t give people medical advice about whether or not … but if you think your diet is lacking … one of the experts said to me, “When you reach for those vitamin pills, why don’t you stop at that moment and think. That’s a message to my brain saying, ‘I think something’s lacking.'” When you go to give it to your child, you go, “Why am I giving my child this little multivitamin.” It’s sign to your brain that you think, “I’m a bit tired, I’m a bit stressed, I’m working really hard, I’m juggling three jobs,” whatever it is. “I haven’t been able to feed my child everything I thought I should be feeding them, so I’m just going be safe about-”

34:00 … to feed my child everything I thought I should be feeding them, so I’m just going to be safe about … I’m just going to be … just in case, I’m going to give them this. I think that moment of thinking that thought, it’s actually a signal to go, “What am I eating? What am I doing? What are my lifestyle choices?”
Sonya: 34:15 Before I would rush off to the doctor and get a blood test, I would do that, and I would go, “Am I getting enough sleep? Am I eating enough fruit and veggies?” Even as we show in the film, you don’t need very much.

Stu

34:27 No, you don’t.

Sonya

34:29 [inaudible 00:34:29] content, I’m talking about vitamins here. So just … vitamin. I would say first thing is look at what you’re eating and what you’re consuming, and then if you’re worried and you have symptoms that fit with perhaps some vitamin deficiency, then go talk to a doctor. But I wouldn’t be one to say I know what those symptoms are.

34:49 We filmed a scurvy cluster in the U.S., the largest scurvy cluster in the world is an hour outside of Boston, 30 odd people with vitamin C deficiency. Now, that was extreme. They were losing teeth, they’re bleeding from their gums, their wounds are opening, their hair’s dropping out. That’s what a real vitamin deficiency looks like, so most of us are just worried about feeling a bit tired, or wanting a bit more energy, or worried about some usually things that are more ambiguous, and that’s where it gets really tricky.

35:22 I wouldn’t suggest rushing off to do lots of vitamin tests, because they’re often quite expensive. In particular, vitamin D testing has been shown to be overprescribed, and actually not terribly helpful at the moment. There’s a lot of conversation about the real usefulness of vitamin D testing. So you’ll see that in the film as well.
Sonya: 35:46 That’s a very contentious area and heavily debated at the moment, but it’s worth just thinking before you rush off and do the testing, “What am I worried I’m deficient in? What’s my instinct telling me?” You know? I think we’ve got a good sense of how well we’re eating and when we’re not eating as well as we should.

Stu

36:03 I think so. No, that’s good advice. About a couple of months ago, we interviewed a series of health professionals on the podcast, and they were talking about cod liver oil and the benefits of this potentially wonder drug. I went out and bought myself a little pot of cod liver oil thinking, “You know what? This is right for me, I’m going to do this.”

36:26 But then I realized that, “Well, I eat fish nearly every day as well, and I have a very, very in my mind’s eye, healthy diet. All whole foods, loads of fruits, and veggies, and healthy oils, and things like that. I haven’t taken them as yet, but I watched your movie last night, and I don’t think I am going to take them, because I’m also now very much aware that yeah, I can take too much of this single vitamin, and it can do me more harm than good.

Sonya

36:56 The four vitamins you have to be careful of, and we call them ADEK. A, D, E, K. I just used ADEK so I can remember it, you know? And yes, you can overdose on those, and cod liver oil is A and D. The other thing that’s not in the film, but one of our experts told us when we were finished filming, and unfortunately the cameras were all wrapped, and I was just going, “Aww, damn.”

37:19 She’s the Norwegian scientist who studied cod liver oil and vitamin D in the final … Norway. She said, “Aw, Sonya, good.” I said, “I want to rush out and buy cod liver oil now,” and she goes, “Ah … good cod liver oil is a very ancient and traditional remedy,” and lah, lah, lah. Everything that we say in the film.

37:33 Then she said, “Ah, but you know, one thing to be aware of is these days because it’s now going through the EU to be sold to the rest of the world, it has to be pasteurized, and when it’s pasteurized, it destroys some of the vitamin D content. So often they add artificial vitamin D back to the cod liver oil to get it up to the existing level.”

Stu

37:54 Oh my word, that’s just nuts.

Sonya

37:54 I cannot prove references for this, all I can say is this is what I was told on location. I just went, “Oh, we are living in a crazy world.” So I have chosen just to eat more fish. I eat fish two or three times a week, and I think that should be enough.

Stu

38:08 Yeah, I think so too.

Sonya

38:11 It has changed how I look at food. Sorry.

Stu

38:13 No, go …

Sonya

38:13 The film has changed how I look at food. I did used to take a vitamin tablet. Not regularly, just occasionally when I felt I was run down. I took one of those ones, because I feel like I’m an executive running a company, and I was always under a lot of pressure and stress, so I would take a particular one that seemed to be speaking exactly to me, because it was wonderfully marketed at me.

38:36 I took that for a number of years, and two things stopped it. One was I read a big, big longitudinal study that was done in the U.S., that showed that women that take multivitamins, including high levels of vitamin B, have higher rates of cancer over … if they take that vitamin tablet for two years or longer, their rates of cancer go up.

38:56 Now, this has been attacked, this study, and questioned, and challenged, but it was enough for me to go, “I beg your pardon?” I did ask a number of people while we were filming why that could be the case, if that study ends up being correct. As I said, it’s been challenged.

39:12 Three of them, Professor Walter Willett, one of the most famous nutritionists in the world said to me, “Oh, that makes perfect sense that increasing vitamin content could feed cancer cells, because cancer cells feed on what we feed on, and vitamins feed cancer cells, so it is possible.”

39:26 At that point, I just went, “Why am I taking these tablets?” Then I started to investigate, and now what I do is a look at a plate of food, and I scan it, and I’ve got like a little thing in my plate that tries to measure up roughly how much … what I might be missing on the plate. It’s been the best thing, because it’s freed me up to be much more creative with food, and trying to get different vitamins in there.

39:49 Like you guys probably know well because you’re trained, but I’m not. So I now look at a plate of food with really extraordinary awe and respect.

Stu

40:00 Yeah, absolutely. That’s very empowering to hear, because I look at food as information and feel as well, and everything I eat is going to send a signal to my body to do something, so it’s not just a sandwich or an apple. Have you added anything to your diet or your plate then based upon what you’ve discovered?

Sonya

40:25 Have I added? I do make a … I mean, I always liked eating fish, but I probably eat … once or … I used to eat twice a week. I probably eat it three times a week now. I really concentrate on eating whole fruit.

40:40 I used to go and grab a juice if I was in a hurry. I probably don’t do that as much anymore, because I actually get all of those vital nutrients and the fiber and everything else that’s in the piece of fruit, so I’m more conscious of reaching for a piece of fruit.

40:52 The office here used to be a Tim Tam office. We still have chocolate, but we also have the fruit, and everybody in the office said they have just tweaked their diet that bit, just that bit. We have lots of nuts, you know?

41:08 Just be conscious of it. We’re not particularly neurotic about it. We don’t obsess over it, but it has made me stop and think. As I said, when I walk down the aisles in whatever supermarket and I see the vitamins, and occasionally I go, “Oh gosh, I wonder.”

41:26 I’m getting to an age where B12 is something everyone tells me I should be taking, and I go, “Okay, I’ll think about that. How can I get B12?” That’s how I kind of do it at the moment.

41:35 But if I was genuinely worried about B12, I might go and get a test from the doctor, but I’d have to be thinking there’s something wrong. I wouldn’t just do it for fun, you know?

Stu

41:46 Yeah, it’s frightening walking the aisles of the supermarket, because I completely agree with your view on the vitamins as well, because they’re talking to us, and I’ve seen little capsules that are labeled, “Executive stress,” and they talk to you, and you think, “Well, that’s me. Yeah, I could use that. I could perform at a much higher level if I go into this.” Or, “Restful sleep,” all of these things. But yeah, it’s not to be taken lightly, and that’s the take home for me on the movie.

Sonya

42:22 It’s take them seriously. If you’re going to take them, take vitamins themselves seriously. Like look at them and consider them. I had two lovely naturopaths contact me after one of the screenings in Perth, and it came up and joined the Q&A, and so they said, “We’re naturopaths, and we use vitamins every day in our practice and kind of in our toolkit.”

42:43 They said, “Thank you so much for this film, because we hadn’t realized quite how powerful they are, and now we’re going to think more carefully about how we use vitamins in our practice.”

42:54 I thought, “That’s all I want, people just to think about this.” I found that … I felt like a job done, from my point of view. It doesn’t mean don’t do them, it doesn’t say, “Be terrified of them,” it just says, “Think carefully about what you’re doing.”

Stu

43:09 Yeah, it’s important. Absolutely. Yeah, it’s the right thing to do, especially where our health is concerned, because we’re not as robust as we’re led to believe, and we can tip the balance of our health if we’re ingesting things and we don’t fully understand it.

Sonya

43:26 And we’ve got a nearly coming up to $200 billion industry pushing it.

Stu

43:31 Yeah, absolutely.

Sonya

43:33 That’s the thing, you know? People somehow have forgotten that in the story of vitamins. It’s a very, very lucrative market. We show that the value of vitamin D per gram, basically you can buy it around about $50 per gram, and they sell it for 3,700 odd dollars per gram in your pill. That’s a very hefty mark up.

Stu

43:56 That’s right.

Sonya

43:57 I’m sure there’s a lot of cost involved in getting it into your pill, but even so, that’s more valuable than plutonium, you know? Wow. So we can’t kid ourselves that this is all natural, all benign, and all perfect, you know? It’s not. Anything made by man has risks. Anything made by man has risks.

Stu

44:21 Absolutely, and we could wander out into our garden, start a little veggie patch, and grow our own vitamins.

Sonya

44:26 Yeah.

Stu

44:26 It’s easy.

Sonya

44:29 Yeah.

Stu

44:29 So we’re just coming up on time, and I just have a question that I like to ask everyone on the podcast as well, which is going to be specific to you. So clearly you’re very, very busy, and I’m intrigued as to what your non-negotiables are each day to be able to get the best out of every day.
Stu: 44:52 It might be something like, “Well, look, I get up in the morning and I pop my vitamin D pills, and I have a glass of water and I go to yoga.” Something along those lines. What things do you do religiously every single day to crush each and every day? Oh, okay.
Sonya: 45:11 My espresso. I have an espresso every morning. Yeah, I try to get to yoga three times a week. I love my yoga class. It makes me feel great, and if I can’t get there, I do my yoga mat just half an hour.
Sonya: 45:23 My coffee, absolutely my coffee, and I try and have a walk at lunch time, partly for vitamin D, because everything I’ve loved about vitamin D is get a little bit of sun in the middle of the day. Not a lot, I have skin cancer, so I have to be careful, but that balance 10 minutes on my own, that should be heaps. That’s my non-negotiable. My coffee, and my porridge, actually.

45:46 Ah, right, lovely porridge.

Sonya

45:47 Porridge. When it’s winter, I love my porridge, so that’s what I try and focus on.

Stu

45:52 Fantastic, well that is … yeah. That is fantastic. I’m intrigued just to know what do you got coming up? What’s next for Sonya Pemberton?

Sonya

46:06 We’ve got a couple of series in development, like we focus on science and science film making. I look around for areas that I think are going to be concerns and of interest in say two year’s time. The average film takes at least two years, so I’m predicting two years down the track what I think is going to be something that I can contribute to.
Sonya: 46:28 My motivation is to try and produce something useful. It doesn’t have to be the highest rating or the blockbuster, and I should say this, but we don’t do it to make money. I mean, I want to survive as a company, but that’s not … the focus is to produce useful science communication that helps people understand the world better.
Sonya: 46:45 Right now, I’m really deep into a very major genetics project that may end up on Netflix, so they’re very interest in it, which will be nice. So we’re really looking at the coming wave of genetics changing the world. That’s one of the projects.

47:00 We’ve also got a beautiful, beautiful big project on carbon. That may sound dull as dishwater to people, but carbon that drives our world, a fundamental element, and of course underpinning that is climate change. They’re the two big things we’re working on at the moment.
Stu: 47:18 Fantastic. Very interesting, yeah. I would particular interest in genetics, so I’ll keep a close eye on that one. I’m very interested indeed. How can we get more of what you’re doing? Where can we go to watch the movie? Where should we send our visitors to find out more?

47:36 Well, you can go to vitamaniamovie.com. That’s where you can go to all things Vitamania. If you want to see our other material, you can go to genepoolproductions.com. So Genepool Productions is the name of my company, and some of our films are available there online to watch or to purchase.

47:53 We try and keep it really cheap, a couple of bucks. Some of them are not available because the broadcasters have put conditions on them and we can’t release them yet, but we release them as soon as we can.

Stu

48:03 Great, fantastic. Well, I will add all of the links that we’ve spoken about today in the show notes so everybody can access them easily. But Sonya, thank you so much for your time, really appreciate it. Hopefully I will speak to you at some stage soon.

Sonya

48:15 Thank you.

Stu

48:24 Okay, thank you. Bye-bye.

Sonya

48:24 Thank you, bye.

 

  • Share:

    Want More Articles Like This?

    Sign-up for the 180 Nutrition mailing list to receive the latest news and updates.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *