Keep taking the tablets... or not

AS I sat at the breakfast table this morning, popping vitamin pills and capsules, I thought for the umpteenth time how my dad would have laughed atme.

AS I sat at the breakfast table this morning, popping vitamin pills and capsules, I thought for the umpteenth time how my dad would have laughed at


It was one of his standing jokes that Americans rattled with all the tablets they took.

He would have approved of the Kursaal Flyers line about "uppers to counteract the downers, downers to counteract the uppers".

An investigation of my gran's medicine cupboard once revealed she was taking little blue pills to speed up her heart, and little red ones to slow it down. She and the national debt would presumably both have been healthier if she'd taken neither.

Gran, however, was poorly - or at least old. I, as yet, am neither. Yet there I am every morning, wrestling with the adult-proof lids to claim my handful of supplements.

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The idea, of course, is to ensure I stay healthy. Unlike those (mostly Yanks) who invest in surgery to lift everything from their bums to their vocal chords, I don't expect to stay young.

Of course, the question is: does it work? If I stopped taking the tablets, would I instantly begin a steep decline towards an early grave?

Would I, perhaps, actually perk up? Would the headaches get more frequent, or less?

Or would it, as I rather suspect, make absolutely no difference to my life at all, bar a slight improvement in my bank balance?

The ordinary Joe like you or me, of course, has no way of telling. Which is why I go on pill-popping, just in case it does help.

You might think that people who work at places with names like the New York University Lipid Treatment and Research Center would know more.

This week they published research showing that vitamins including E, C and beta carotene stop the liver breaking down an early form of bad cholesterol. Oh dear.

Searching through their report for a grain of something I might understand, I find this: "It does appear that antioxidant vitamins may be potentially harmful for the heart."

On the other hand: "Until more data becomes available, we can't make any recommendations about whether people should not use these vitamins."

So what should we do? Let's ask a specialist.

Belinda Linden, head of medical information at the British Heart Foundation, says: "Most research tends to suggest that supplementation with antioxidant vitamins, although not beneficial, does not lead to undue harm."

Well, that's a ringing recommendation then. Sounds like all those vitamins are merely a waste of time and money.

But hang on a mo: "There is evidence from other studies that antioxidants could have beneficial effects on other parts of the body."

Those are the words of the New York doc who published the warning in the first place.

So what do you make of it all? Should I go on taking the pills or not? Answers on a medical record card please.

CHARLES Darwin thought it was a hybrid - a cross between a cowslip and a primrose. The great Essex botanist Henry Doubleday proved it was a species in

its own right.

But I must confess I'm not sure I would recognise it.

I have very much enjoyed this week the sight of cowslips bursting forth in the verges, meadows and churchyards of Suffolk. But an oxlip? Pass.

It appears, however, that plant-lovers in the county do know their oxlips. The flower has been named Suffolk's favourite in a poll to find floral

emblems for all the British counties.

The conservation charity Plantlife International, which ran the poll, describes the oxlip as "The signature flower of well-established woods on the

East Anglian boulder clay."

But will it take as the county's emblem? I'd say it has more chance than the harebell has of displacing the white rose as the accepted symbol of


I would heartily back the bid to have the over-rated rose replaced as a national emblem by the bluebell.

The glorious woodland harbinger of summer was apparently so popular all over the UK that no county was allowed to choose it as its own emblem.

And here's a fascinating fact: More than half the entire world population of bluebells grows wild in Britain. Not a lot of people know that.