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CRN Voices Concern Over Irresponsible Conclusions Reached by Researchers in The Lancet

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 12, 2003 – The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) today reacted strongly to a meta-analysis on vitamin E and beta-carotene appearing in the June 14 issue of The Lancet, calling the study’s conclusions “irresponsible, overinterpreted, and old news disguised as something new for publicity purposes.”

The meta-analysis, conducted by researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, provided overgeneralized interpretations of previously published clinical trials on vitamin E and beta-carotene and their effect on heart health.

According to John Hathcock, Ph.D., CRN’s vice president, scientific and international affairs, “This meta-analysis hasn’t told us anything we didn’t already know. But that didn’t stop the researchers from making sweeping statements that are not justifiable based on the studies they reviewed. For example, they discount the potential benefit of vitamin E for heart disease based largely on their review of secondary intervention trials on subjects with established heart disease. But what many researchers refer to as the ‘antioxidant hypothesis’ is the belief that antioxidants may be effective in decreasing the risk of heart disease if consumed before the atherosclerosis develops.”

CRN also pointed out that the researchers suggest that beta-carotene supplementation should be discouraged, even though none of the beta-carotene studies included in the article suggest a risk to non-smokers. The evidence for a small but statistically significant risk with high-dose beta-carotene is derived entirely from two clinical trials in smokers and in others at high risk of heart disease. In both of those trials, the increased risk occurred primarily in people who smoked, and as a result it is generally recommended that smokers should not use high-dose beta-carotene.

“It is nothing short of irresponsible for the researchers to suggest that research on vitamin E and beta-carotene be stopped,” said Dr. Hathcock. “In fact, the researchers admit that their analysis ‘does not disprove’ the antioxidant hypothesis. They even outline a variety of approaches that could be taken in further studies. It would be a major disservice to the public health to stop research on antioxidants in relation to heart disease.”

“In contrast to the assertion of the authors, this meta-analysis is not the last word on the benefits of vitamin E and beta-carotene,” said Dr. Hathcock. “It appears they are simply trying to make headlines by taking old news and adding drastic and unjustified recommendations.”
Vitamin E is a safe and effective antioxidant and an essential nutrient required for maintenance of health. It has potential benefits for vision, Alzheimer’s disease, counteracting free radicals to play a role in fighting cancers, and reducing the risk of coronary disease. Beta-carotene is a safe and effective form of vitamin A, which like all vitamins, is essential to health and to life itself. Scientists consider it desirable for part of the vitamin A activity in the diet or in a multivitamin to be derived from beta-carotene. Experts at The Linus Pauling Institute Conference on Diet and Optimum Health, a recent conference on antioxidants, emphasized the need for more research to identify optimal intakes of antioxidant nutrients for health promotion and disease prevention.


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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