Group forms to clarify roles of vitamins and minerals in diet

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Group forms to clarify roles of vitamins and minerals in diet
A new group called the Global  Nutrition & Health Alliance has formed with the mission to clarify the role of food fortification and nutritional supplementation. The issue of the role of these nutrients in the diet is still a matter of some confusion, one of the group’s founders has said.

The group, funded by consumer products giant Reckitt Benkiser, parent company of Schiff Nutrition, brings together prominent health and medical experts.  The goal of the group is to try to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to nutrition information and when supplementation is necesssary and which supplements are most effective and best backed by science, said Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, one of the group’s members.  Steinbaum is the director of women's heart health at the Heart and Vascular Institute, Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“What’s interesting is that there is really a problem with nutrition right now that many cultures around the world are struggling with.  Our food is not good enough alone to provide what we need. I think food has changed and there is really a role for vitamin and mineral supplementation,”​ Steinbaum told FoodNavigator-USA.

Cutting through the chatter

The GNHA formed in the summer of this year and after initial consultation concluded the messaging about vitamins, minerals and supplements available at the moment is conflicting and ultimately may confuse both healthcare professionals and consumers. The group has established a multi-year agenda to tackle the challenge of striving for optimal nutrition through diet alone and the value of supplementing with vitamins and minerals, when appropriate. The alliance's near-term focus will be to educate consumers and healthcare professionals on achieving the daily recommended amounts of key nutrients including Omega-3 and Vitamin D, which are crucial for health, but often deficient in the average person's diet.

The alliance will attempt to clarify this message across many markets and cultures, Steinbaum said.  The group includes experts from both North America and Europe.  The group will discuss the impact of compromised food sources, lack of fortification systems lending to deficiencies among certain populations and resurgence of once obsolete vitamin and mineral deficiency-related illnesses. 

Some of the conflicting messages lead to surprising anomolies in certain markets, Steinbaum said. Even in prosperous Germany, consumers may not be getting optimum nutrition.

“For example, we are very aware in the US that folic acid is extremetly important for fetal development.  But in Germany they don’t supplement their food with folic acid so many more babies are born with neural tube defects than in the US,” ​she said.

A recent study​ found the incidence of neural tube defects in Germany was estimated at 12.36 per 10 000 births in 2011 (a mean figure derived from registry data in Mainz and Saxony-Anhalt) and is thus much higher than the mean incidence across Europe, 7.88 per 10 000 births (EUROCAT data for 2004-2008).

"National guidelines for daily nutrient intake exist in almost every country, yet the reality is that much of the global population is overfed but undernourished,"​ said Nigel Denby, RD, head of dietetics at www.Grub4Life.com in London. "The Alliance seeks to dispel the many misconceptions about diet, nutrition and supplementation of vitamin and minerals by providing scientific proof that will help people make better choices to achieve better health.”

Steinbaum said much recent publicity about the role of supplements has served to confuse the issue in many consumers’ minds.  Some of this has to with an earlier ‘magic bullet’ approach, in which the mainstream media would jump on the next hot supplment, whether it was megadoses of vitmains, omega-3s, antioxidants or what have you, as the secret to health.  These same media outlets were just as quick to hop off the bandwagon at the first sign of conflicting evidence.

“A lot of thethe data that has come out in the past decade has shown that vitamins may not be as beneficial as we originally thought.  The Women’s Health Study showed that not all vitamins are necessary.  Low vitamin D is a huge issue, so there is definitely a place for supplementation. But a lot of Americans believe that more is better, and that is not always the case,” ​Steinbaum said.

For the near future the group will concentrate its efforts on omega-3s, vitamins and minerals, Steinbaum said.  It won't be weighing in on the role of or scientific underpinning for other supplement ingredients that are garnering attention, such as curcuminoids.

"We want to talk about health for as many people as we possibly can. This is really about global health and nutrition,"​ she said.

Funding research

The group plans periodic meetings in various locations around the globe to discuss initiatives. The alliance plans to react to influential studies and reports in the mainstream media about supplementation, Steinbaum said. Btu the group also plans to fund its own research, including surveys to quantify what people are actually eating.  Steinbaum said the group also plans to fund studies that will look into the macro and micronutrient content of diets to see what the food people commonly consume actually contains.

“As a cardiologist I’m always talking to my patients about omega-3s. I can tell them to eat fatty fish, to eat salmon.  I can say that, but depending on where people live in the US and where they buy their fish, the levels of omega-3s could vary. As an example, we will be buying salmon from a market in New York City and in other markets to analyze its omega-3s content to get those answers,”​ Steinbaum said.

In addition to Steinbaum and Denby, the group’s founding members are:

 • Regan Bailey, PhD, RD: Nutritional Epidemiologist, National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements; Washington, DC, US

 • Bryan Haycock: Exercise Physiologist, Health Medical Affairs, Reckitt Benkiser, Salt Lake City, UT, US

 • Clemens von Schacky, MD: Head of Preventative Cardiology, University of Munich; Munich, Germany

 • Katherine Sherif, MD: Director, Jefferson Women's Primary; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US

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