CRN: rate vitamins on ability to prevent, not treat

Vitamins should be evaluated on their ability to prevent disease, not treat it, according to dietary supplement suppliers' leaders.

The Washington, DC-based Council for Responsible Nutrition sounded the warning after publication of a study indicating that giving B vitamins and folic acid supplements to reduce high levels of a blood protein that is a marker for heart disease did nothing to protect women from heart trouble.

In the study, the findings of which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the volunteers, all women, were 42 or older at the start of the study and either considered at risk for heart disease or had already experienced heart problems.

Half the 5,442 participants took 2.5mg of folic acid, 50mg of vitamin B6, and 1mg of vitamin B12 daily, while the rest took a placebo. The results showed there was no appreciable difference in the incidence of heart problems or heart-related deaths compared to the placebo group in the seven years.

But CRN vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs, Andrew Shao said: "We need to revise the expectation that a simple vitamin will reverse a lifetime of unhealthy habits and instead study vitamins as they were meant to be used — as tools to help maintain health, promote wellness and complement other healthy lifestyle habits.

"While this study is well-designed, it set out to assess whether B vitamin supplementation could reduce the risk of cardiovascular events — such as heart attack and stroke — in women who had a history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or had multiple risk factors associated with the disease. Therefore, this study still does not answer the question of whether B vitamins can help reduce the risk of CVD in a healthy population."

It was also important to note that the researchers found no harmful effects from B vitamin supplementation, he added, contradicting previous trials that suggested B vitamin supplementation could increase the risk of cardiovascular events in a high risk population.

"To their credit, the researchers put their findings into the appropriate context, discussing both the limitations and strengths of the study," he said. "We urge consumers, as well as the rest of the scientific community, to follow their lead by not misinterpreting these findings. We further urge researchers to continue to study how vitamin supplements can best help consumers lead a healthier lifestyle."

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