The context of bad press for supplements

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dietary supplements, Dietary supplements industry, Nutrition

Yesterday, reported on the latest hit to dietary supplements from mainstream press. Today, we look at the background of negative media attention surrounding the category.

New York Times

Last week, The New York Times published an article entitled “News keeps getting worse for vitamins”, ​which highlighted negative findings from studies on vitamin supplementation.

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

Pope listed 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.


In July, ABC published the opinion of a member of the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr Eric Rimm, who said dietary supplements will not provide the nutritional boost a poor diet requires.

Dr Rimm said that only a change in diet and lifestyle will provide the nutritional boost necessary, and fundamentally unhealthy people seeking dietary remedial action through supplementation are wasting their time.

He said people should instead focus on the classic diet-exercise combination.

New scientist

In 2007, an article published in the New Scientist magazine and written by Dr Lisa Melton from the London-based registered charity, the Novartis Foundation, claimed that the benefits of antioxidant supplements, from vitamins and carotenoids to polyphenols, are just a 'myth'.

The article stated that, according to results of randomized clinical trials, when antioxidants have been extracted from fruits and vegetables and put into supplements, they do not always produce the benefits associated with antioxidants, and may even be harmful.

The article was published online and in print edition of New Scientist. The print edition sells an average 165,000 copies around the world.


Earlier this year, attention was again focused on the efficacy and safety of antioxidant supplements after the publication of a meta-analysis of 67 randomized trials with antioxidant supplements.

The report, published in April in the prestigious Cochrane Systematic Review, stated that vitamins A and E, and beta-carotene may increase mortality risk by up to 16 per cent.

The meta-analysis had originally been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2007, Vol. 297, pp. 842-857) last year and attracted criticism from both inside and outside of the dietary supplements industry.

Poor vitamin E

The hardest hit to the supplements industry came 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 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.

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