Industry Responds to Negative Editorial on Supplements

Washington, D.C.—An opinion piece published in Annals of Internal Medicine entitled, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” has caused a large upset in the natural products industry.

The editorial, written by five medical doctors from various institutions, summarizes the results of three research articles in the issue concerning multivitamins and dietary supplements and their impact on mortality, cardiovascular disease and cognitive function. The authors claim that the studies showed, respectively, “no clear evidence of a beneficial effect” of supplements on mortality, “no significant difference” between placebo and supplements on cardiovascular health and that no supplements “improved cognitive function.” In addition, the editorial argues that clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people show supplementation of beta carotene, vitamin E and high doses of vitamin A may even increase mortality.

The authors of the study followed their analysis with a message: “Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”

Senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Natural Products Association (NPA), Cara Welch, Ph.D., commented on the flaws of the editorial, saying, “Multivitamins are not intended to cure chronic disease or prevent death solely on their own. They are designed to address nutrient deficiencies, and to aid in the general health and well-being of consumers.” She went on to remark on the safety of dietary supplements and their economic and nutritional value for those who “don’t eat a complete diet.”

John Shaw, NPA CEO and executive director, saw the editorial as an attack on the industry. He also expressed the NPA’s concern that the authors would call for a halt in future prevention trials, a move that he called “flat-out irresponsible.”

The Life Extension Foundation director and co-founder William Faloon noted that when it comes to disease, the authors of the article were right to think miniscule doses of nutrients in commercial one-a-day multivitamins will have no significant effect on disease prevention. In a letter to industry, he stated, “Be it the miniscule doses of nutrients in commercial multivitamins, or improper form of nutrients like synthetic vitamin E, these research findings do not support disease-prevention effects. “

He cites the label on the Centrum Silver Adult 50+ formula, which offers 50 mg of magnesium when older adults males should get 420 mg and females 320 mg. This is one of several similar examples he offers. “These minute potencies are unlikely to provide a reduction in degenerative disease risk. Yet the government has spent tens of millions of dollars on human studies to prove low potency nutrients provide little or no health benefits,” he states.

However, Faloon says it is possible to protect against aging processes such as heart failure, cancer and dementia with “broad-spectrum nutrient, hormone, and healthy lifestyle choices,” he believes, which includes multivitamins such as those offered in the natural products industry.

Meanwhile, President/CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Steve Mister made the point that the editorial demonstrated a “close-minded, one-sided approach that attempts to dismiss even the proven benefits of vitamins and minerals.”

He echoed Welch’s opinion that multivitamins are appropriate for filling in nutritional gaps, and also pointed out that scientific authorities have dismissed concerns regarding vitamin E. Speaking to the authors of the study, he requested they “stop ignoring the scientific evidence that demonstrates there is value to getting your essential nutrients,” available in vitamin and mineral supplements.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2014 (online 12/18/13)