From June 2001 Issue of Nutrition Science News
by Bill Sardi
In the film "Cast Away," Chuck (Tom Hanks) is a Federal Express employee who is the victim of a plane crash. He is washed ashore and stranded on a deserted island for four years. Several FedEx boxes also wash ashore, and Chuck makes novel use of the contents. Pretend you could have packed one of those boxes as a dietary supplements survival kit for Chuck. What would you have included?
One might first consider the essential omega-3 fatty acids because they maintain the myelin sheath-encapsulating neurons, critical to brain and nervous system functioning.  Imagine losing your mind on a deserted island because you couldn't get the dietary fats your brain and nervous system require. Chuck eventually catches some phytoplankton-rich fish, a natural source of omega-3s, so he wouldn't have needed any omega-3 supplements.
But, with his limited diet, he would have needed dietary supplements for long-term survival. Here's what I would have packed for Chuck. Vitamin C tops the list because studies have shown that doses of 300-plus mg/day promote longevity (adding six years to the male life span),  and reduce mortality from all causes by 57 percent.  In the shorter term, a deficiency of vitamin C causes scurvy, the bane of long-distance sailors who have no access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Chuck's limited diet of raw coconuts provided only 3 mg of vitamin C daily. 
For Chuck's island life, I also would have added garlic capsulespoor man's penicillinbecause it is effective against bacteria, dysentery and fungi, and also provides two essential minerals, selenium and sulfur. 
Third on my list is vitamin B12, often lacking in vegetarian diets. Even with our abundance of fortified foods in the "civilized" world, four in 10 Americans lack adequate vitamin B12.  A B12 shortage can result in short-term memory loss, fatigue and nerve degeneration (demyelination). 
Interestingly enough, studies show that a calorie-restricted diet like Chuck's may actually lengthen the mammalian and insect life span.  Related longevity studies on fruit flies have shown that limiting iron also prolongs life.  Nature favors iron shortage because bacteria, fungi and viruses need iron for growth.  Males have no elimination mechanism for iron, as do females during menstruation. Although the body requires iron, it is the major "rusting agent" or oxidant in the body. Foods such as berries, grapes, and whole grains keep iron levels under control through iron-binding pigments. 
With strong evidence that food restriction produces longevity, it is ironic that Chuck's four-year ordeal probably added years to his life. This "life imitates art" illustration could be helpful to pharmacists advising new supplement users on the essential dietary supplements.
Bill Sardi, a health journalist in Diamond Bar, Calif., is the author of The Iron Time Bomb (Bill Sardi, 1999).
1. Martinez M. MRI evidence that docosahexaenoic acid ethyl ester improves myelination in generalized peroxisomal disorders. Neurology 1998;51:26-32.
2. Enstrom JE, et al. Vitamin C intake and mortality among a sample of the United States population. Epidemiology 1992;3:194-202.
3. Loria CM, et al. Vitamin C status and mortality in US adults. Am J Clin Nut 2000;72:139-45.
4. USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Cocos nucifera. 1999 Nov; release 13.
5. Adetumbi MA, et al. Allium sativum (garlic)a natural antibiotic. Med Hypotheses 1983;12:227-37.
6. Agricultural Research Service. B12 deficiency may be more widespread than thought. US Department of Agriculture, 2000 Aug 2.
7. Lovblad K, et al. Retardation of myelination due to dietary vitamin B12 deficiency: cranial MRI findings. Ped Radiol 1997;27:155-8.
8. Lee CK, et al. Gene expression profile of aging and its retardation by caloric restriction. Science 1999;285:1390-3.
9. Massie HR, et al. Iron accumulation during development and aging of Drosophila. Mech Aging Dev 1985;29:215-20.
10. Emery TF. Iron and your health. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press;1991. p 25-34.
11. Gutteridge JMC, et al. Antioxidants in nutrition, health, and disease. New York: Oxford University Press;1994. p 74
Return to the NUTRITION Section