New feature-length documentary from Dr Derek Muller and award-winning Genepool Productions looks at the sense and nonsense driving the world’s love affair with a mysterious group of molecules.

In a wealthy city in Australia a young man goes blind for want of vitamins. In the Antarctic wilderness two explorers die from too many.

Almost one billion of us take a regular dietary supplement, mainly vitamin tablets. Vitamins are enthusiastically endorsed by celebrities, and vitamin fortified foods line our supermarket shelves.

But how safe are these products? Is it true that vitamins are “natural” and therefore can’t do you, or your children, any harm? How are they regulated, and, hey, just what is a vitamin, anyway?

These are the surprisingly urgent questions investigated by scientist Dr Derek Muller in Vitamania, the latest documentary made by Emmy Award-winning Australian filmmakers, Genepool Productions.

Muller – who starred in Genepool’s critically acclaimed three-part series, Uranium – Twisting the Dragon’s Tail (2015) and enjoys almost five million subscribers to his physics-themed YouTube channel, Veritasium—takes us on an epic, global journey to uncover the science and the history of vitamins.

In Vitamania he travels inside the Arctic Circle in Norway to eat rotten fish and trace the story of cod liver oil. In the US, he attends a massive “natural health” trade show, revealing the hype and hysteria that drives the multi-billion-dollar global trade.

And in Melbourne, Australia, he discovers that the daily amount of each vitamin the human body needs to survive is tiny – in some cases, so tiny that it can barely be seen by the naked eye.

So, why do such little things generate such big hype—and so much money? With the help of several of the world’s leading researchers and nutritionists, Muller dives deep in a detailed, surprising, and entertaining exploration of the sense and nonsense of a group of molecules loved equally, although for different reasons, by medicine and marketers.

Along the way, we see the tragic consequences of having too few vitamins. Muller discovers that scurvy, the scourge of sailors for centuries, is making a comeback, and that children even in prosperous countries are at risk of illness and death because of inadequate diets.

He also reveals the equally tragic consequences of consuming too many—including why, particularly, you should never eat a dog’s liver.

Even though their presence or absence can dramatically affect health, Muller discovers that vitamins are not treated as medicines. In countries including the US and Australia, vitamins are regulated on a trust-based system, and there is no easy way for consumers to calculate their total intake—or that of their children.

And although one might be tempted sometimes to equate fish oil with snake oil, Vitamania also reveals that vitamins have been the subject of some very real and very important science, garnering 10 Nobel Prizes and saving countless lives.

Lending our host some unusual assistance is renowned Australian composer and performer Casey Bennetto—best known for his work on the highly successful stage show Keating! – making Vitamania the first science documentary ever to feature its own libretto.

Visually stunning, richly entertaining and impeccably researched, Vitamania carefully untangles a centuries-old story of claim and counter-claim, of science and hysteria. By its conclusion, viewers will be armed with the knowledge they need to navigate the world of nutrients and health claims, and make informed decisions about the miracle molecules so central to our survival.

Genepool Productions is a multi-award winning company based in Melbourne, Australia. Led by creative director Sonya Pemberton and cinematographer Harry Panagiotidis, the team has produced highly acclaimed science documentaries, including Jabbed – love, fear and vaccines; Immortal; and Catching Cancer.

The shows have screened on networks and at festivals around the world, and have won multiple accolades, including Jackson Hole Science Media Awards, Eureka Awards for Science Journalism, AACTAs, ATOMs and an Emmy.

Broadcasting on SBS Australia, 8:30pm August 12.

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Vitamania is a Genepool Productions feature documentary for SBS Australia, CuriosityStream, and ARTE France. Principal production investment from Screen Australia, in association with Film Victoria.