Daedalus

Vitamins and minerals

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Bottled mineral water, says Daedalus, is a pretentious adjunct to modern living. It is mainly water with a bit of fizz, but each bottle lovingly details its mineral analysis. Sometimes it lists traces of beneficial substances such as calcium or magnesium; often it records ones which are definitely harmful, such as sodium. But the implied magic of bottled water lies in its origin — some special spring or source far from urban contamination. One brand even claims to have been melted from glaciers laid down centuries ago. Oddly enough, the magic of mineral water (unlike its chemical composition) fades rapidly. Almost all bottles have a well-marked sell-by date. Consumers of this potent elixir gladly pay the vast price demanded for it. It lets them avoid alcohol in restaurants and pubs without appearing too poor or too mean to pay lavishly for a drink.

Daedalus now plans to lend a little scientific credibility to this profitable product. He notes the vast trade in mineral and vitamin supplements. Logically, these are quite a cheap form of health insurance. Vitamin deficiencies can sometimes occur; and the lack of elements such as selenium and zinc can cause medical problems in susceptible people. And coronary heart disease, at least in Britain, seems to occur more in regions with soft water. Hard water, containing calcium and magnesium, may have a significant protective effect.

So DREADCO's ‘Reinforced Water’ (slogan: Harder than hard! ) will combine the chic, magic and high price of mineral water with the genuine benefits of diet supplements. Its main active ingredients will be calcium and magnesium, of which we need about 0.8 gram and 0.3 gram a day respectively, and vitamin C, of which 0.1 gram a day is not excessive but which is unpleasantly acid. To force these palatably into solution, Reinforced Water will be pressurized with several atmospheres of carbon dioxide. It will then take up calcium and magnesium copiously as bicarbonates, and vitamin C as neutral calcium ascorbate. The other vitamins and minerals, needed in mere milligrams or less, should dissolve easily.

Smart, vigorously fizzy, powerfully healthful, but free of the pharmaceutical overtones of diet-supplement pills, Reinforced Water should dominate the mineral-water market. But dare DREADCO abandon mineral magic for mere scientific rigour? The company's marketeers are thinking of claiming that it issues from a spring on Mount Olympus, home of the Immortals.

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Jones, D. Vitamins and minerals. Nature 407, 148 (2000) doi:10.1038/35025186

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