NIH supplements report 'irresponsible'

A US National Institutes of Health (NIH) assessment of 355,000 peer-reviewed nutrient studies published over the past four decades has concluded that "more rigorous scientific research is needed before strong recommendations can be made regarding multivitamin/mineral use to prevent chronic disease."

While the report acknowledged the biological effects of nutrients on some chronic disease states, typical industry responses have ranged from "irresponsible" and "biased" to "unfounded".

"We got creamed," stated Loren Israelsen, president of the LDI Group consultancy and a co-author of the 1994 Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA). "'Vitamins: safe?' That's the message that will guide our government over the next five years. We in the industry see 'unregulated' and say 'What? We have this complicated law — DSHEA — and companies have to go through all these hoops.' And we see now that 'unregulated' is code for 'The government does not pre-approve.'"

The most inflammatory remark came from panel chairman J Michael McGinnis, MD, a senior scholar with the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. "Half of American adults are taking MVMs and the bottom line is we don't know for sure that they're benefiting from them. In fact, we're concerned that some people may be getting too much of certain nutrients."

NIH made three recommendations regarding specific supplements: folic acid for women of childbearing age, calcium and vitamin D to protect bones of postmenopausal women, and antioxidants and zinc to perhaps slow the progression of macular degeneration.

The National Nutritional Foods Association objected to the panel's remarks that the US Food and Drug Administration was not authorised to patrol the supplements industry. "While it certainly may be true that the agency that regulates dietary supplements is both underfunded and understaffed, it is not powerless to enforce the law," noted an NNFA release.

For in-depth coverage of this story see July's issue of Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals.

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