Global population demands, ‘confusing’ media coverage and the 100 year old vitamin

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Neural tube defects Nutrition

It’s 100 years since Casimir Funk came up with the term ‘vitamin’, but with an ever-increasing global population and negative reports in the media of their ‘ineffectiveness’ for select health conditions, what does the future hold for the humble vitamin?

Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA at the recent SupplySide West show in Las Vegas, Dr Deshanie Rai, senior scientific leader, human nutrition & health, DSM Nutritional Products, answered questions on vitamin supply, understanding the benefits and limitations of the nutrients, and whether the vitamin family will be extended to include some emerging nutrients.

“Our global population is increasing in size, but other factors need to be taken into account in addressing the adequacy of our vitamin supply,” ​she said.

“For example, global food production needs to increase in order to feed all these people. Additionally, the incidence of chronic disease is increasing developed and developing countries. Likewise, the prevalence of hidden hunger is increasing, and people are living longer.

“Given all these points, yes I do believe that we have an adequate vitamin supply. This is where we need to depend on the manufacturers and suppliers of vitamins who, through the use of science and technology, provide vitamins for use in dietary supplements, and food and beverages through fortification and enrichment.”

So are the negative reports in the media, with a little help from the medical journals, confusing consumers?

“The mixed messages in the media can be confusing to consumers,” said Dr Rai. “This is where we as scientists, healthcare profession, and journalists can help to educate consumers about the value of vitamins. They are essential nutrients that help to support basic physiological functions from the time of conception throughout our life cycle.

“We should also realize that vitamins cannot do everything, including curing and preventing a plethora of diseases.

“We should recognize the successes and achievements of vitamins in terms of actual human health outcomes, like reducing the incidence of neural tube defects. Likewise, the use of vitamins to help ensure our nutritional adequacy, and narrow nutrient gaps.”

Talking about neural tube defects (NTDs), the main vitamin for that – folate/folic acid – was identified only in 1941. With calls from some quarters for other nutrients to join the ‘vitamin’ family, can we expect to see new nutrients named ‘vitamins’ or is the list closed?

“It depends on the strength of the overall science,”​ said Dr Rai. “As the science on nutrients and nutrition in general evolves, I believe these advances will help to drive new insights and perspectives on this topic.”

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