Editorial: "E" is for Education

By Len Monheit

[email protected]

The past week, we have seen an explosion in the coverage of the story which broke last week, where researchers at JohnsHopkinsUniversity, supported by the American Heart Association, reported on a meta-analysis of some 19 studies, which, when the results were pooled, suggested that higher doses of vitamin E supplementation correlated with higher rates of all-cause mortality. Without going into the details of the science or the debate, this issue has generated a furious amount of industry activity, immense media coverage, an increasing level of confusion amongst consumers, and certainly heightened awareness of such terms as 'dose' and 'megadose'. It has introduced the concepts of tocopherols and tocotrienols and 'natural versus synthetic' and perhaps even increased the percentage of vitamin and supplement users reading labels even more critically. In the interests of product and category education, there might even be a silver lining here.

The industry has challenged the validity of the meta-analysis, as well as researcher bias. Spokespersons have been identified and these individuals have become vocal in media spots across the continent to attempt to counter the study findings and to manage the damage and consumer loss of confidence which has already resulted in declining sales. Without these efforts, the damage likely would be worse, and the storm is by no means over. These efforts will need to be maintained for months to protect the category, and unfortunately, the spillover into other areas, the questioning of higher vitamin doses, might have serious longer term implications. (Might there be a legal case for someone to take up involving misrepresentation or misuse of data that is hurtful to the industry and its businesses?)

At the same time, it's interesting to note that a story (Reuters Health Article ) this past week regarding high doses of Vitamin C and possible effects on elderly women with diabetes (increase in risk of cardiovascular-related death at higher doses and lower risk at lower doses) failed to get much pick-up in the media at all. Perhaps it's a matter of eyes elsewhere, but one can't help but be struck by the dose-related titles in both cases, and realize that unless seriously and consistently challenged, the argument for severe limiting of Daily Intakes, or even more signficantly, the identification of food sources as 'safer' sources, might have been given a huge shot in the arm. So not only does the research have to be 'disqualified', the potential that this work can be used for broad stroke future arguments has to be eliminated - or at least seriously reduced.

It's actually good timing that positive science (Vitamin E May Help Some Diabetics ) about Vitamin E has also been reported, although it should come as no surprise that the pickup on this study is significantly less than the pick-up on the Johns Hopkins results.

In last week's editorial I noted the need for the industry to have a common resource (or set of resources) that could be referenced repeatedly to present, references, experts, links, facts and science about a particular issue. Such a resource has been constructed (there are a few actually) and industry can now use the site constructed by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance at http://www.vitaminefacts.org/ as a platform to challenge the headlines and the media and to indicate to consumers as a resource to get some of the Vitamin E facts. Incidentally, NNFA has also created a resource at http://www.nnfa.org/vitamine.htm.

Doing a Google or Yahoo search for vitamin E is an interesting exercise. Currently on Google, information sites are at the very top, with a few news sites such as CNN and BBC appearing on page 1 as well. On Yahoo, we see more product sites and note the absence of news sites, but resource sites seem to do reasonably well. The take home message that I get out of this observation is that sites whose content is consistent and who are well-connected and well-linked will generally do well. All meta-information (while not a sole and primary driver in most cases for search engine rankings) should be consistent and complete.

Taking this message to the industry - if we want the millions of consumers searching the Internet every day to find appropriate and solid information, we should be promoting our resource sites to get them as high in the search engines as possible. We can do this by linking to them, using them in communications, and urging our audience to search by title and a common message (for instance 'vitamin E Facts').

To link to the VitaminEfacts website go to http://www.vitaminefacts.org/link_to_us.htm.

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