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CRN Emphasizes Benefits of Vitamins

– Evidence on cancer and cardiovascular disease still emerging –

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 30, 2003 — The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) issued the following statement in response to a report from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in the July 1 Annals of Internal Medicine titled “Routine Vitamin Supplementation to Prevent Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease: Recommendations and Rationale.”

Statement by Annette Dickinson, Ph.D., CRN President:

“The report concludes that, while ‘…there is little reason to discourage people from taking vitamin supplements,’ there is not sufficient evidence to recommend for or against the use of vitamins for the specific purpose of preventing cancer and heart disease. The USPSTF recommended against the use of large supplemental doses of beta-carotene, especially in smokers, but recognized that ‘there is no evidence to suggest that beta-carotene is harmful to smokers at levels occurring naturally in foods.’

The USPSTF did a good job of reviewing the emerging evidence relating to cancer and heart disease by citing some positive studies and some inconclusive ones and concluded that, on balance, we need more research on these topics.

It is important to bear in mind that cancer and heart disease are not the only—or even the primary—reasons for using vitamins.

For example, recent reviews by key researchers at Harvard Medical School have concluded that multivitamins are a good idea for virtually all adults. Dr. Walter Willett and Dr. Meir Stampfer concluded in a 2001 article in the New England Journal of Medicine that a daily RDA-type multivitamin ‘…makes sense for most adults.’ Dr. Kathleen Fairfield and Dr. Robert Fletcher similarly concluded in a 2002 article in JAMA that a multivitamin would be prudent for virtually all adults—and that the elderly might consider taking two a day. These researchers were well aware of the data cited by the USPSTF, and they affirmatively recommended multivitamins based on a wider range of benefits, including simply compensating for inadequate nutrient intakes and overcoming age-related decreases in absorption or metabolism. Potential benefits include strengthening immune function, protecting against cataracts and macular degeneration, improving cognitive function, building strong bones, and helping women of childbearing age protect against having a baby with a neural tube defect. As noted by the USPSTF, there are also positive studies suggesting potential benefits even for cancer and heart disease, for some nutrients.

An article in the June 28 British Medical Journal breaks new ground in proposing a ‘polypill’ composed of several components—including the B vitamin folic acid—that the researchers say could prevent 80 or 90 percent of heart disease and stroke. Obviously these researchers were more persuaded than the USPSTF about the value of folic acid in reducing homocysteine levels and therefore reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The bottom line is that individuals have to make their own decisions about what makes sense for their own healthy lifestyle. But many scientists believe, as does CRN, that the regular use of dietary supplements, with a multivitamin as the foundation of a smart nutrition program, makes good sense for the overall promotion of good health and prevention of disease.”


The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), founded in 1973, is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing dietary supplement industry ingredient suppliers and manufacturers. CRN members adhere to a strong code of ethics, comply with dosage limits and manufacture dietary supplements to high quality standards under good manufacturing practices.

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