‘Active compounds’ – more than vitamins

Nearly a hundred years ago Dr Otto Warburg attributed cancer to one major and fundamental cause:  a lack of oxygen in the mitochondria of the cells.  This, he stated was further aggravated by three other contributing factors:  stress, the presence of toxins, and a lack of ‘active compounds’. 

For a small number of years, a few decades in the middle 1900s, we labelled a number of nutrients, as they became recognised, ‘vitamins’.  Then we stopped.  Vitamins B1 to B12, arguably to B17, the nitrilosides, were called vitamins.  As more important nutritional compounds were discovered the habit changed, and we just gave the newly discovered compounds names, no numbers, and no appellation ‘vitamin’.  Examples include, but are certainly not limited to, coenzymeQ-10, lipoic acid, and resveratrol.


It has become accepted dogma (if unconsciously) that if the diet, or nutritional supplements, provides all of the ‘vitamins’, we will be adequately nourished.  The word ‘vita’min even suggests that it is these compounds that are vital for life.  By implication, it is then possible to believe that the others are not vital.

In fact, hundreds if not thousands of compounds, found in a wide-ranging vegetable-based diet, are vital for good and vibrant health.  None-the-less, there is the belief that a good ‘multi-vitamin’ supplement will give you all that you need to supplement an inadequate diet.

In the 1930s, some of these active compounds were just being discovered.  Many more have been discovered since.  The list, as it applies to health in general and to the prevention of degenerative disease and cancer in particular, continues to grow.    The fact that some of these are labelled ‘vitamins, and others are just given names, blinds us to the vital importance of the ones that do not carry the ‘vitamin’ appellation.

What are these compounds and why are they important?  The ones I listed above, for instance, are all vital for the healthy functioning of the mitochondria.  Well-functioning mitochondria are vital for good health and its maintenance, at any age, but progressively so as the years go by.  When mitochondria are damaged a variety of health consequences, including cancer, occur, and progressively so with age.

Many of these polyphenols are produced by the plants to ward off pests, mould, and fungi. Inevitably, they are produced in far greater amounts in organic produce than in ones that have been sprayed with antifungals and pesticides as there is less of a challenge (need) for the plant to produce their own.  One such example is the resveratrol produced by grapes.

However, there are hundreds of other such compounds.

As hunter-gatherers, for 190,000 years, we ate many dozens of different types of plant foods with hundreds of different ‘active’ components.  In the last 10,000 years, during which time we have developed a grain-based diet in which up to fifty percent of our calories have come from grains and other starches, the nutrient content of the diet, and the variety and quantity of active compounds we have consumed, has decreased dramatically, so has our health, despite modern medicine.

See ‘Sapiens, a brief history of humankind’ by Yuval Noah Barari who says: “Studies of ancient skeletons indicate that the transition to agriculture from hunting and gathering] brought about a plethora of ailments, slipped discs, arthritis and hernias…”  and ”A diet based on cereals is poor in minerals and vitamins, had to digest, and really bad for your teeth and gums.”

The grain and starch-free diet, with copious amounts of raw plant foods and juices, that you are encouraged to adopt by Metabolic (or alternative) practitioners supporting people with cancer, goes a long way to providing the diet of our ancient, and much healthier, ancestors.

So open up your diet to a much greater range of vegetables, herbs, spices and fruits and put less reliance on a simple multi-vitamin as the sole addition to your standard but low-nutrient 21st century diet.