We Shouldn’t Be Studying Supplements as If They Were Drugs

March 4, 2014

(ALLIANCE FOR NATURAL HEALTH) – An independent panel of non-federal experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine concludes that the natural health community has been right all along.

supplements-269x300On February 25, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) made a remarkable confession: conventional medicine isn’t qualified to properly assess the benefits of dietary supplements. The group’s Recommendation Statement on dietary supplements and the prevention of heart disease and cancer, which evaluated and combined existing studies on multivitamins and individual nutrients, concluded that:

  • Studies on dietary supplements should be designed  differently than drug studies (which are largely random controlled trials, or RCTs);
  • Existing dietary supplement studies aren’t  representative of the general population, and don’t show “true subgroup differences” (e.g., how a nutrient will affect a young Hispanic woman versus an older Caucasian man);
  • Research should target those who are deficient in the nutrient they are testing instead of patients with optimal nutrient levels (a point that should be self-evident but has always been ignored);
  • Disagreements on appropriate nutrient levels “hinders progress in understanding potential benefits of dietary supplements”; and
  • Due to these factors, there is simply not enough evidence—using conventional medicine’s customary approach—to determine whether multivitamins, vitamins A, C, or D (with or without calcium), selenium, and folic acid help prevent heart disease or cancer, or not.

Please note the important caveat: using conventional medicine’s customary approach. Integrative doctors have used the hundreds of thousands of studies on dietary supplements to devise successful healing protocols, but they usually begin with tests to determine deficiencies and they do not generally use a one-pill-or-dose-per-health-problem approach.

The USPSTF recommended against supplementing with vitamin E and beta-carotene, to prevent negative health effects. We agree: taking beta-carotene in large quantities without the co-factors found in nature (such as other carotenoids), or taking vitamin E in the common alpha-tocopherol form without other mixed tocopherols, especially gamma, is dangerous.

To the natural health community, this all seems rather obvious. But to the FDA, Big Pharma, and major medical associations (e.g., the AMA), these are revolutionary concepts. After all, both the FDA and the FTC have been demanding that dietary supplements submit to RCTs before making any substantive claim about their intended health effects.

You’d think mainstream media would pick up on this report. You’d be wrong. Let’s check the headlines:

  • ABC News: “Supplements No Guard Against Country’s Top Killers”
  • Time Magazine: “What You Don’t Know about Your Vitamins: Supplements Are Good for You, Right? Maybe Not So Much.”
  • MinnPost: “Vitamin Supplementation is Wasteful and Risky, Researchers Stress.”

Sigh. Only the Big Pharma-funded mainstream media could pull “Supplements are bad!” from “The natural health community has been right all along.”