Mainstream media highlights harm from vitamins

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Vitamin

Dietary supplements have received their latest dose of negative media attention, after The New York Times last week published an article on vitamins harming health.

The article – entitled “News keeps getting worse for vitamins” ​– puts significant emphasis on Vitamin E, which is only just recovering from its previous media-bashing.

“The best efforts of the scientific community to prove the health benefits of vitamins keep falling short,”​ writes columnistTara Parker-Pope, in an article that has already attracted over 400 comments from consumers.

Pope lists numerous studies published over more than a decade that have linked vitamins (including vitamins E, C, A, and B, as well as beta-carotene and selenium) to negative health effects, or that have simply been found to have no benefit.

“Despite a lack of evidence that vitamins actually work, consumers appear largely unwilling to give them up,”​ she writes, adding that some people feel it is poorly conducted studies rather than the vitamins themselves that are the problem.

Negative results

The article highlights the negative results of numerous studies, the most recent of which include:

  • A clinical trial (highlighted last week at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Washington, DC) of 15,000 male doctors taking vitamins E and C for up to 10 years found no effect on cancer rates, including prostate cancer.
  • Another study (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association​) on almost 15,000 male physicians found that vitamins E and C have no benefit for heart disease.
  • A SELECT trial on the ability of vitamin E and selenium to lower prostate cancer risk was halted early amidst fear that the supplements were doing more harm than good.
  • Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York found that vitamin C may do more harm than good as it may protect cancer cells.

To read the full New York Times article, click here​.

Industry impact

The article is the latest round of negative mainstream media attention surrounding supplements, which has in the past resulted in a sharp drop in supplement sales.

The vitamin E category suffered a big hit in 2005 following a widely publicized meta-analysis at the tail end of 2004 that linked vitamin E with an increased risk of all-cause mortality (Annals of Internal Medicine 2005 Jan 4;142(1):37-46).

The study stated that daily vitamin E doses of 400 international units (IU) or more can increase the risk of death and should be avoided.

The conflicting evidence has left consumers unsure of the benefits and wary of the harm. The day after the report came out, 20 percent of US consumers taking vitamin E supplements stopped taking them. Sales of the vitamin fell some $102m.

Related topics: Suppliers

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