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Be flattered, not threatened, by increased medical scrutiny of products

By Stephen DANIELLS , 12-Feb-2013
Last updated on 12-Feb-2013 at 23:08 GMT

The dietary supplements industry should be encouraged and not threatened by increased scrutiny of its products by the mainstream medical community, because it means they are taking the products – and the questions from their patients – seriously.

This week, JAMA Internal Medicine published an analysis of 55 products from 12 manufacturers, and found that the actual vitamin D content of the supplements varied among different brands, manufacturers, and even among different pills from the same bottle.

Taking into account some inter-lab variability, and many of the products were actually in and around the same range, despite the headlines.

While there will undoubtedly be some in the industry who see this as an attack on the integrity of the products, there is an alternative viewpoint – that it means there is serious academic interest from medical researchers in the products and the science.

I'm not saying that all the papers published in the main medical journals are encouraging - there have been plenty of studies about supplements published with questionable methodology and even more questionable conclusions - but in the past six months we've seen an upturn in positive reports in the JAMA journals, for example, with the 'multivitamins may reduce cancer risk' article the most obvious one.

Top 3

I checked the JAMA Internal Medicine website yesterday (Feb 11, 2013), and the three most read articles on there are all about dietary supplements:

  1. Dietary And Supplemental Calcium Intake And Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: The National Institutes Of Health–AARP Diet And Health Study
  2. Dietary Supplements And Mortality Rate In Older Women: The Iowa Women's Health Study
  3. Why US Adults Use Dietary Supplements

This surely shows the interest among the journal’s subscribers in dietary supplements and nutritional approaches to health.

A good thing

Speaking with me yesterday afternoon about the vitamin D analysis, Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council of Responsible Nutrition (CRN), said: “Philosophically, this kind of article is a good thing because it means that the medical community is taking vitamin D seriously. They understand the benefits, they are reassured of the safety, they are testing for it, and physicians are prescribing it.

“The medical establishment is embracing supplements and I think we will see a lot more of this kind of analysis.”

This is an opportunity and not a threat, and it extends beyond vitamin D to all the big ingredients in the industry, from multivitamins to omega-3s. The medical community – and I’m not talking Big Pharma here, I'm talking the healthcare practioners – are interested in nutrition, their patients are asking about nutrition and supplements, and high profile individuals like Dr Oz are talking up the benefits. It has never been more important for industry to ensure standards are where they should be. The vitamin D study also showed the benefits associated with third party verification programs. 

FDA is increasing its enforcement of the regulations, and the medical community is testing these products, so ensure those labels claims are met, as companies are required to by law. Ensure those ingredients are safe, as companies are required to by law.

The industry should seize the opportunity to educate health care practitioners about the benefits and standards associated with dietary supplement use. Who knows, maybe the health care practitioners will also finally grasp that dietary supplements are not unregulated!

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