Vitamin deficiencies

Regulation of supplement industry would benefit consumers

One hundred years after the first vitamin was named, what is known about them has not been translated into beneficial, standardized recommendations for public health, according to Dr. Irwin H. Rosenberg, University Professor and director of the Nutrition and Neurocognition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research on Aging.

Even though vitamins have been around for a century, not much is known about their health benefits, according to a Tufts nutrition scientist. © DARREN McCOLLESTER/GETTY IMAGES

Rosenberg outlined his recommendations for advancing the science behind vitamins and minerals in an article, “Challenges and Opportunities in the Translation of the Science of Vitamins,” which was published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“The evidence regarding vitamin use for prevention of chronic disease is still quite rudimentary, especially for multivitamins,” Rosenberg said. He points to research indicating that people who take multivitamins generally eat better and are more physically active. “Since multivitamin users are generally healthier, it might not be feasible to attribute health outcomes to vitamin use until we have more information,” he said, noting that “the best source of vitamins is food.”

To close the gap between the paucity of established scientific evidence and the widespread use of vitamin supplements, Rosenberg recommends that supplements be regulated. Currently, they are subject to very little federal oversight. “Right now, the term multivitamin encompasses hundreds, if not thousands, of products with varied content and dose of vitamins and minerals. It’s really difficult to guide customers if we don’t even know what is in the vitamins they are taking,” he said. “Standards would be helpful to both consumers and industry by rewarding those companies that do science-based marketing, rather than those that make unjustified health claims.”

Rosenberg also recommends that multivitamins be composed of clusters of vitamins and minerals that research has proven are beneficial to health. “We really need to encourage good study design and to establish indicators of efficacy and safety in vitamin research,” he said. “At best, the research needed to translate scientific knowledge into policy will require a robust interaction between the public and private sectors in a regulatory framework that supports and rewards investment in good science.”

This story ran in the Tufts Journal in April 2007.