Wrong brand of genes?
The more scientists learn about genes, the more they study how nutrients interact with our genetic makeups. Referred to as nutrigenomics, this rapidly growing field is helping some companies turn a profit by offering tests that give dietary recommendations based on a person's genetic makeup. But a January article in New Scientist questions the validity of such tests. One downfall is that they often test for one gene when a disease can be based on more than 100, critics say. Other experts, including those from Johns Hopkins and Harvard universities, say they would like to see research showing that nutritional supplements could help individuals overcome genetic illnesses before testing consumers and then recommending supplements. But proponents of the testing say that as long as the companies aren't making ridiculous claims, they aren't hurting anyone. Many also offer valid tests that can help reverse health conditions such as high cholesterol.
Fat mice, skinny rats
Recent studies on the popular weight-loss supplement conjugated linoleic acid have shown it appears to work very differently on rats and mice, and may have negative side effects. A February study in the Journal of Lipid Research reported that when mice were given CLA they lost weight quickly but gained excessive fat in their livers. This could have implications for type 2 diabetes, since liver fat can impact insulin resistance. Conversely, when the rats ate the CLA-laced food, they didn't lose weight but they didn't accumulate fat in their livers either, according to a study to be published in an upcoming Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. This suggests that the CLA did not affect insulin resistance. Although there is debate, most scientists agree that humans are more akin to rats, physiologically speaking. Since previous research shows that CLA helps humans lose weight, this could be good news for dieters who take CLA but worry about side effects.
Message to the masses
Soon, alongside mainstream pharmaceutical company advertisements, audiences will see sharp, active people and notable celebrities promoting consumer confidence in dietary supplements. The Dietary Supplement Education Alliance, based in Sarasota, Fla., is launching a paid television and radio ad campaign aimed at assuring consumers about the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements and calling consumers to action. The ads will direct consumers to stores and a Web site for follow-up. The national campaign will require $15 million to $20 million, according to a December DSEA memo, and the coalition says it plans to reach out to the entire supplements industry to seek funding support. The campaign will begin with a $1 million to $2 million test launch in select cities. DSEA also intends to add print, outdoor billboards and point-of-sale materials in the future.
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