Supplement woes, again
The supplement industry has its hands full these days trying to keep up with negative publicity about taking vitamins. Its latest damage-control efforts are aimed at some Norwegian studies published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Norway does not fortify foods with folic acid and investigators evidently wanted to know if the vitamin was safe. They gave various combinations of vitamin supplements to heart disease patients. Oops. Patients taking folic acid and vitamin B12 had higher death rates than those taking no supplements or vitamin B6. The excess deaths were generally from cancer, mostly of the lung.
Implications? Like all such studies, this one requires interpretation. The supplement industry has one interpretation. Others are likely to follow.
But maybe it’s time to think more carefully about adding folic acid to the food supply? We add folic acid to flour in the U.S. in an effort to reduce prenatal risks for neural tube disease (NTD). Rates of NTD have decreased with folic acid fortification, but they might have done so anyway. Maybe taking single vitamins is not such a good idea? Maybe we need a whole lot more research on mechanisms of action? Do vitamins promote the growth of cancer cells, for example? Are people with heart disease especially susceptible to excessive vitamin intake? And maybe we need stronger regulation of dietary supplements? What a concept!
For the supplement industry, these kinds of studies mean bad news. Nutrition Business Journal worries about how such research will affect sales. Watch the industry spin on this one.