In the conference room just off the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Dr. Tieraona Low Dog was taking the supplement industry to task.
The event was the keynote speech for the United Natural Products Alliance members retreat last month and Low Dog was talking about the most basic micronutrients, the letter vitamins, the minerals. The supplement industry is busy selling the latest and greatest condition-specific formulations while vast numbers of Americans are low in micronutrients like iron, vitamin D and iodine.
She asked the audience of supplement industry leaders how many knew their vitamin D level; only a small number of attendees raised their hands.
With that response and reaction in mind, we asked several of the supplement professionals attending the event to answer the question: Is the supplement industry doing enough to make the case for basic nutrition? Read more about the industry's challenge in selling basic nutrition in Nutrition Business Journal's Supplement Market Overview issue in our store.
Cal Bewicke, Ethical Natural
No, I don't think so. I think it's consumed with dealing with its own problems, and also, with the objectives of making money for individual companies. I don't think it's doing enough as a group to educate the public as to what we're about.
Mindy Green, Green Scentsations
I think so—only because I work at Pharmaca. We have little signs everywhere about that. So, I think that the industry is doing a fairly good job. Whether people are paying attention to that or not is another issue. I think that's the issue.
Lorne Israelson, United Natural Products Alliance
Are we doing enough on basic nutrition? No, evidenced by the fact that we ask our own members if they had their vitamin D or magnesium checked within the last year, and the majority said, "No." Let's start with that—knowing our own nutrient levels.
Robert Craven, MegaFood
Absolutely not. I think we need to be extremely aggressive in answering the case around nutrition. I also think we need to create barriers to entry for companies that are confusing the consumer around nutrition. If that means pre-market approval or some form of third-party oversight, I'm all for it. I think that the rise of the Silicon Valley model and the disruption that's going to be attacking us as an industry is going to muddy the waters even more and I'm very concerned about that. So, I think no. We're not doing near enough.
Aaron Bartz, Ortho Molecular Products
I don't think we're making a good enough case for nutrition based on the levels of nutrients that we're seeing with people. I think it's basically because a lot of the nutrition industry is focused on what the differentiator for them is, instead of actually educating people on basic, proper nutrition. I also think that maybe most Americans think that just because they're taking a basic multivitamin, they're covering their bases. Again, if you look at the statistics, they're not because people aren't getting levels of vitamin D, vitamin C. So, we definitely have to do a better job at that.
Adam Ismail, Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3
I do think we could do a better job at communicating the basic nutrition benefits of vitamin, mineral and fatty acid supplements, and that includes my own organization which promotes the benefits of omega-3s. For many nutrients, there is ample evidence that nutrient inadequacies affect large portions of the population. However, much of the scientific research that drives the media communication to consumers is focused on chronic disease outcomes, which is a very different message from meeting basic nutrition needs scientifically. It seems like only the most educated consumers can distinguish between nutrient adequacy and chronic disease outcomes. The supplement industry definitely touches on both arenas, so it is easy to "forget" the importance of the nutrient adequacy message, but in my opinion, this is the area where supplementation has the most prominent, observable impact in at-risk populations, like impoverished children, pregnant and nursing women and the elderly.
Jim Emme, NOW Foods
No. We aren't. Unfortunately, the case is being made by a very select few people in our industry. They're doing a great job with the consumers who are exposed to it. We need to do a much better job as a whole. Really, we need to have a common voice on it. I see that happening, and I think that's a good thing. But we have to be more prolific. We have to be more consistent and really make the effort.
Elan Sudberg, Alkemist Labs
I'd have to say the industry is making a good case for nutrition, moving in the right direction, although it's getting really confusing with all the variety of products out there. People ask which way to turn. Do I take turmeric in a pill? Do I drink it in a bottle? Should I take that every day? Just like with all things today, and all things getting just so much more complicated and chaotic. But, ultimately better, in the right direction. Less Cheetos, more probiotics.
Edward Wyszumiala, United States Pharmacopeial Convention
I would say no, the answer was very, very clear that three-quarters of the room isn't even monitoring their own nutritional content for vitamin D and magnesium compared to what we expect the average consumer to be asking a doctor for. We're the educated ones and we're still not doing that.