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The Great UK Vitamin Scare {4} – a broader perspective


This New York Times 8 April 2008 article (the U.S. position, not the U.K. one, but the principle is there)

Potential for Harm in Dietary Supplements

covers the vitamin and deaths research but also has more general points:

(1) Regulations for drugs compared with supplements are not the same

[..] Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, inhalers and reflux inhibitors have to be shown as safe and effective before the F.D.A. will let them be marketed. But thanks to the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, neither dietary supplements nor homeopathic remedies are required to provide premarket evidence of safety and effectiveness. To remove such a product from the market, the F.D.A. has to prove that it is dangerous, a challenging task for the understaffed, budget-strapped agency.

(2) No systematic collection of data on adverse effects of supplements

[..] A new federal law requires supplement manufacturers to report serious adverse effects to the Food and Drug Administration, but it depends on consumers to call in reactions. Experts say most consumers are unlikely to relate health problems to a supplement they assume to be safe, and even if they do, they may be reluctant to report an adverse effect from a self-medicated substance.

Examples of effects of overdosing with supplements

  • A dental patient with gum healing problems on high doses of a wide range of supplements
  • leg cramps – A man taking 50 mg. of vitamin B6

(3) Vitamin and mineral supplements can interfer with the working of prescribed drugs

Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, E and K; niacin; folic acid; calcium; magnesium; iron; and zinc can be hazardous when combined with various prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies. Yet patients often fail to mention using such supplements to physicians.

(4) Structure and function claims conflated with with medical benefits

Our bodies need regular supplies of essential nutrients for growth and maintenance. They can state the concentrations in their products and what the substance is meant to do in the body. They are not meant to be able to say that megadoses have therapeutic effects.

Just because beta-carotene in carrots aids normal vision does not mean it can correct nearsightedness. Or a substance for forming blood cells will not necessarily be useful to prevent or treat a disease of blood-forming tissue like leukemia.

(5) Legally only allowed to make structure and function claims for supplements, while homeopathic remedies can claim medical effects

the example given here is for zinc. As a homeopathic supplement therapeutic claims are allowed. As a dietary supplement, it is illegal to make such a claim.

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April 19, 2008 - Posted by | vitamins | ,

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