The UK food supplements industry has joined its US counterparts in condemning Annals of Internal Medicine research that concluded vitamins are useless and even harmful in some cases.
It is what they are alleged to be useless at – curing disease - that has so angered the vitamins sector, which contends vitamin consumption is much more about disease prevention and the maintenance of wellness.
Graham Keen, executive director of the UK Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) issued this response today which we run here in full.
“Yet again we see new US-based consumer research being widely reported here in the UK, with the implication that what goes for US consumers must automatically apply here in the UK," wrote Keen.
"It’s important note straight away that people taking vitmain and mineral supplement products are not being deceived – food supplements can play a useful role as adjuncts to the diet, but should not be regarded as on a par with pharmaceuticals for disease prevention. These are food products. We have never suggested our products are medicines, which treat, cure or prevent disease, and as a responsible industry we have always clearly stated that those people with medical conditions should consult with their GP before making and lifestyle changes, which includes their diet.
Food versus medicine
"Benefits of food supplements are well-known, and backed up by 100s of studies, and it is misleading, not to say disingenuous, to suggest that UK consumers are nutritionally sufficient. Evidence from the Department of Health’s own National Diet and Nutrition Surveys shows that a significant proportion of the UK population simply doesn’t achieve nutritional sufficiency through diet alone. Consequently, there are many vulnerable groups that fall into this category and a good case in point is vitamin D. In light of widespread deficiency across the UK, the industry has been working with the Department of Health in relation to vitamin D to agree new messaging on packaging to encourage at-risk groups to take vitamin D supplements.
"Only three weeks ago the Chief Medical Officer in the UK, Professor Dame Sally Davies, was announcing the return of Ricketts in children. Supplements can also be beneficial to at-risk groups, including children, pregnant women, elderly people, ethnic minorities etc. For most, the best solution is to eat as healthy a diet as possible, and in an ideal world, we would get all we need from our diets, combined with other health-related lifestyle changes.
"With regards to safety, these products have shown decades of safe use here in the UK. The vitamin and mineral supplements industry has an exceptional record of both safety and efficacy, in the UK and worldwide. Figures published by the Food Standards Agency showed that there were only 11 reported reactions over an 11-year period. These reports are also forgetting to mention EU regulation, and the fact that UK manufacturers already operate in one of the toughest regulatory environments in the world and as such, sets a gold standard in terms of product quality and efficacy.”
After publication nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton from the food supplement industry supported Health Supplements Information Service (HSIS ) sent a statement, part of which read:
“It is vital to note that vitamins are essential for health and that, according to a recent Government survey, many people in the UK have inadequate intakes of certain nutrients and could benefit from a dietary supplement in recommended amounts.”
“This was a trial in a specific group of people – i.e. people over the age of 50 years who had suffered a heart attack. The people participating in this study had several cardiovascular risk factors, including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, angina, diabetes, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and heart valve disease; more than half had been smokers and most were taking medication for cardiovascular disease. Around half of the trial population were already taking multivitamins, other vitamins and minerals or herbal products.”
“The trial was designed to find out whether a multivitamin supplement could reduce further cardiovascular events in this population group. All the people entered in the trial were in poor cardiovascular health. Of note is the fact that vitamin supplements are intended for the maintenance of health rather than the management or treatment of pre-existing disease for which other treatments, such as medicines or surgery, are more usually employed.”
“Of further note in this study are the high doses of vitamins used, including five times the US daily value of vitamin A, 20 times the daily value of vitamin C, 13 times the daily value of vitamin E, 25 times the daily value of vitamin B6, and 67 times the daily value of thiamin. This was a very high dose supplement designed to be used like medication however it is well accepted that vitamins are not intended to be used in this way so it is unsurprising that they do not have drug-like effects.”
Dr Ruxton also noted a high drop-out rate of 46% from both placebo and vitamin groups due to the 6-times a day regime, a lack of data about the vitamin status of the participants and large numbers below who recorded vitamin deficiencies.
“Given this fact, a multivitamin supplement in recommended amounts is a sensible way to contribute to the maintenance of health,” Dr Ruxton concluded.
The Annals of Internal Medicines editorial can be found here .