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The elixir of life or just a waste of money?

In trying to unlock the secret of eternal youth, alleviating stress, and fending off man flu, this month's columnist has spent a small fortune on health supplements

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Craig Hawes' love of vitamins began when he was eight years old.

Since joining this company 20 months ago I haven't taken a sick day. Not one. Not even an afternoon off with a migraine caused by the free samples of cologne that my editor insists on spraying liberally around the office as part of a product-testing procedure that sometimes delights but more often disgusts the Aquarius girls who sit near us.

I attribute this run of good health not to genes, diet or a miraculous ability to dodge colleagues' germs but to my liberal ingestion of food supplements.

I've been taking supplements for years. When my parents bought my eight-year-old self a bottle of orange-flavoured Sanatogen multivitamins they created a monster. A mutant, disease-repelling monster who will live to the age of 180, I'd like to believe but we'll see about that. Since then I've taken, on and off, scores of (legal) pills, powders and potions after reading in various publications of their ability to better body and mind.

Some promised to give me higher energy levels. Many claimed to prolong life itself. While others... Well, I don't know what most of the others did. They just sounded promising and came in nicely designed packets.

I started off with the basics. Multivitamins and cod liver oil. Granted, you'll find these in everyone's home. But when you're eight years old and the other kids in the playground are swapping sherbet dips and gobstoppers, pulling out a handful of gelatine capsules that smell of fish does single you out as a bit of an eccentric. In my teens, revising for exams and needing something to help me burn the midnight oil, I dosed up on ginseng and guarana powder.

Then in my twenties, when I started going to the gym, I began to take alfalfa (muscle building), glucosamine (joints) and creatine (recovery and strength).

Having landed my first full-time job, I became slightly paranoid about getting ill so I began to take echinacea (immune boosting), while the stress of working long hours was alleviated by St John's Wort (calmness of mind). And then there were the algae-green spirulina pellets, which I purchased simply because they sound like the name of a Greek waitress I once met on holiday.

There are others I've long forgotten, banished from my cupboards after I began to seriously doubt their efficacy and safety. Such as the tablets I picked up in a Hong Kong pharmacy a few years ago that smelled of cat's urine (maybe it was cat's urine).

You could live for centuries and never try every supplement because they're constantly discovering new ones. The other day, while visiting my local health food store, I discovered a new product: shark cartilage powder.

Instantly I thought of a magnificent Great White — sleek, muscular, king of the deep blue sea for millennia — and I simply had to buy some. Maybe some of its DNA would work its way into my body and make me a stronger swimmer. It was worth a try.

Of course, I'll never know whether this stuff genuinely works. It might even be doing more harm than good. But by playing this game of herbal algebra (I never take the same combination of supplements twice) I hope one day to chance upon a formula that triggers some kind of molecular miracle and reverses the ageing process. Or enables me to do one-handed push-ups on a bed of nails. Or gives me X-ray vision. Or at least does something that will reward me for all that money and time I have spent in health food shops around the world.

Craig Hawes is alpha. magazine's feature writer, covering such a staggering range of topics that he's convinced he will one day accumulate enough knowledge to win Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?.