Editorial: Week In Review - Vitamins Under ATTACK!

By Len Monheit
[email protected]
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It had many of the makings of a positive week - Interesting science, new products, new alliances and new deals – and finally the removal of speculation as NBTY acquired Rexall Sundown for $250 million. True, there was the FTC’s charging Coral Calcium Supreme Dietary Supplement with making false and unsubstantiated claims but the news that Hain was launching two new juice products fortified with Kemin’s FloraGLO® Lutein, the introduction of Ireland’s Dolphin Sea Vegetable Co.’s Phycoplex, a proprietary blend of Red Marine Algae studied against selected microbial pathogens, and Sigma-Tau’s Phototrop, a compound that combines acetyl-L-carnitine, omega-3, and coenzyme Q10 studied in the early stages of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), were all positive developments.

The period’s most lingering impact will be the effect of this week’s Lancet published meta-analysis of some 15 Vitamin E and beta-carotene trials, which may have an adverse impact on the entire antioxidant class of vitamins and supplements. This analysis associates beta-carotene and Vitamin A supplementation with a ‘statistically significant’ higher risk of cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality.

Although the release broke just last night (Thursday June 12 at 6:30 Eastern Time), the wires, radios and newspapers are heating up with the story and its implications. Two significant responses should be noted, the first, a CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition) release timed to coincide with the Lancet release, expresses concern over the irresponsible conclusions reached by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation researchers, who, the organization claimed, overgeneralized interpretations of previously published trials and simply published ‘old news … for publicity purposes.’ The other major response was in an Associated Press article picked up by media across the US which reports the researcher’s conclusions including actively discouraging supplement use and discontinuing ongoing clinical trials, cites experts who support the findings as another example of lack of clear supplement benefit, but does go on to mention supplement benefits leaving readers with only a minor negative tone.

The ‘sensational’ damage from the Associated Press piece comes from the various titles heading the article, including: ‘Antioxidants Rated Useless for Hearts’ (Billings Gazette), ‘Antioxidant Pills Don’t Halt Heart Disease in Study’ (NewJersey.com), ‘Study Finds Antioxidant Vitamins Useless Against Heart Trouble’ (Contra Costa). And then there’s the BBC UK’s spin on the study, reporting that ‘Vitamins Do Not Protect Heart’, although this article does have a call-out quote from the British Heart Association stating there is ‘little harm in taking ‘recommended’ doses of vitamin supplements’. This particular article goes on to note the Food Standards Agency warning about high vitamin doses, which is part of the much larger global dialogue to establish daily levels of safe vitamin consumption with pressure from several European countries to make the universal daily amount much lower than that currently permitted elsewhere in the world.

Other radio pieces reporting the analysis results have noted and in fact focused on the benefits of lifestyle and diet management, commenting that these behaviors will have the most significant impact on cardiovascular health.

Here’s a thought:

If we agree that gaining mainstream media exposure is important, and we agree that the researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation have achieved it through the Lancet publication, but we know that the only way to achieve impact is through repeated, very dramatic presentation of both data AND effect, then we (companies and perhaps even more importantly, organizations seeing dramatic effect of supplementation, ‘functionalization’ and fortification in real-life situations) must effectively communicate this information to the media both proactively and reactively at every opportunity. (Healthy Foundation, Vitamin Angel Alliance, UNICEF and more)

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