Questioning the Value of Vitamins

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Ah those British. So ahead of us in so many ways. A professor in Aberdeen had the nerve to suggest that supplements don't make healthy people healthier. The industry reacted accordingly. More interesting is the expectation that sales of vitamin and mineral supplements are expected to drop by 50 percent in the near future. Imagine: the British don't think they do much good.

But maybe Americans don't either? The September issue of Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) is full of doom and gloom. The FDA wants to regulate supplements. Congress is rethinking the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA)--the one that deregulated the industry. Maybe that wasn't such a great idea.

Sports supplements and those for weight loss are getting bad press for the harm they cause. Coupled with the economic downturn, none of this is helping sales. NBJ says last year's 5 percent growth in supplement sales is the lowest since 1997 and predicts that next year will be worse.

Why? As NBJ explains, it gets letters from doctors saying things like this: "I've become stronger in my conviction that taking supplements is nothing more than a giant crapshoot."

This, I argue, is the entirely predictable result of deregulation. The supplement industry worked relentlessly to get itself deregulated. It even wrote the language of the bill that Congress eventually passed (I describe this history in detail in Food Politics). This industry is now facing the consequences of its own actions.

How ironic that supplement makers will be begging the FDA for regulation if for no other reason than to gain some trust.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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