Multivitimins – a perfect storm for policy making


Kiera Butler of Mother Jones Magazine asks whether the multi-billion dollar multi-vitamin industry is doing us any good. As she explains …

“Thanks to the unceasing pressure of politicians like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the labeling of supplements. Last June, Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, introduced a bill that would force manufacturers to slap a warning on supplements that could cause health risks. Naturally, the industry opposes it. ‘We believe in the safety of our products across the board,’ Mike Greene, CRN’s vice president of government relations, assured me.”

The industry position is opposed by scientific study. Kiera offers evidence from “a large 2009 study of postmenopausal women published in Archives of Internal Medicine found that multis didn’t protect against any of the diseases studied, including heart disease and lung, breast, and colon cancer.”  But when has science ever gotten in the way of policy makes intent on helping their lobbyist best friends?

Up to one-third of people living in the USA take these supplements – are you one of them – and would you stop?  Can individual behavior choices really make a difference when powerful industry advertising pushes behavior in another direction?


6 Responses to “Multivitimins – a perfect storm for policy making”

  1. sbfclk Says:

    Requiring supplements to include health risks and warnings is a long time coming. I would have thought that after MI’s and the use of hydroxycut (before the company removed the phenteramine), that the FDA would have mandated this.

  2. allisonburg Says:

    It would be interesting to list information about detrimental effects of multivitamins, as there is a big difference between not having any beneficial impact and harming the person who is taking the pill. I believe the FDA should regulate vitamins, but if the industry is opposing a large study, unless there is a large movement from those who buy the pills off the shelves (and keep the companies in business), nothing will get done. The consumers actually have the power, as they are the ones keeping the companies in business when they are not being transparent.

  3. yitchen Says:

    This reminds me of the behavior of taking glucosamine sulfate and/or chondroitin. Though proved to be of no benefit for osteoarthritis, many people still are happy to swallow them in search of the relief. The industry would rather stick to the label as “supplement” and never proceed to clinical trials for a real effect and actual dosing instruction. The harmful effect of inadequate supplementation is usually insidious which is difficult to draw the causation from observation. That is also the reason why scientific evidence can’t persuade those who hold the belief on the health supplements.

  4. erinbaldridge Says:

    I’m not clear on the main message in this post. In the first paragraph it sounds like you believe there should be a warning on supplements about health risks, the second paragraph says that multi vitamins don’t reduce risks: which one is the most important issue? If I take a multivitamine am I actually increasing my risk or am I just not reducing my risk? Is it a false advertising problem or an undisclosed danger?
    As a typical consumer who does take a multivitamine from time to time simply because it seems to make my hair and nails stronger (superficial but true), what would you like me to know and what action would you have me take based on that knowledge?

  5. jsethness Says:

    I think erinbaldridge brings up an important point about vitamins and supplements—do we need to only know if these products are associated with health risks or should we also be concerned that the supplements do not provide the benefits that manufacturing companies advertise? Both questions will require increased clinical research on these products like the 2009 study by Neuhouser, et al. This research would not only help consumers avoid potentially dangerous products, but would also help healthcare providers recommend or discourage patients from taking various supplements. Without evidence, it is impossible to know the impact these products have on health or the possible interactions they will have with other prescribed medications. Even if the FDA continues to leave the vitamin industry largely unregulated, consumers and providers should advocate for increased government funding for peer-reviewed research on vitamins and supplements.

  6. ccopland Says:

    As for multivitamins, the USDA recommends daily values. These intake references are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies (formerly National Academy of Sciences). DRI is the general term for a set of reference values used to plan and assess nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values vary by age and gender and include:
    * Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy people.
    * Adequate Intake (AI): established when evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA and is set at a level assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy.
    * Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects

    The evidence, however, for many of these values comes from animal and in-vitro studies. For some vitamins and minerals, the optimal “100%” is arbitrary and unfounded.

    As for dietary supplements as a whole, it is up to the manufacturers themselves to monitor for content, production, etc. The USDA has no true oversight of the products themselves (rather, the regulations of the companies itself) – how can it with thousands upon thousands of supplement companies worldwide marketing/selling their products in the US? The companies can make any claim as long as the simple disclosure statement is somewhere on the label (does not cure, not intended for treatment of a disease). It is a $28b/year industry in the US. Without more stringent regulation and limits, this industry poses a public health threat.

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