Thursday, November 29, 2007

My second letter to Reader's Digest about vitamins

Subject: Re: Vitamin Hoax Thank you for your reply. But your statement that "supplements are unregulated" is completely untrue, and is contradicted by the FDA itself on its own official Web page [“FDA regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering "conventional" foods and drug products (prescription and Over-the-Counter).”]. Are your experts completely unfamiliar with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act prohibiting new dietary ingredients without FDA pre-approval and regulating adulterated products and label claims, the Serious Adverse Event reporting act passed last year, the mandatory federal current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) that are now being implemented requiring quality controls and identity testing of ingredients, and currently operational GMP-audited manufacturers? That inflammatory falsehood is exactly the kind of media myth that evidences bias or abject misunderstanding. You have represented a misguided opinion as fact, when it is clearly contradicted by official records of the FDA, FTC and the Congressional Record in both law and regulations. As a watchdog for clinical studies that are misrepresented or poorly done, it is obvious to me that your writers cherry-picked negative studies that were heavily criticized, some contradicted by more robust data or not able to be replicated, and some done with very sick people where the results were admittedly not applicable to healthy populations. Many scientists simply fail to understand the topic of nutrition, thinking that nutrients should be taken just like drugs: in isolation and in high potencies to treat disease in their studies. That is pharmaceutical medicine, not basic human nutrition, which is an all-too-common mistake that creates a lot of confusion when applied to the moderate dietary supplements used by ordinary people to enhance their vitamin-starved modern diets. Using examples of potential side effects from taking amounts far above commonly available supplement potencies as the main reason to avoid taking them entirely is intellectually dishonest, in my opinion, when no one was actually suggesting that everyone take those mega dose amounts in the first place. When you say that, “Food (especially locally farmed food) is the only way to get your vitamins that's absolutely proven to be safe and effective”, you are only partially right. I am a nominee to the Illinois Local and Organic Food Task Force, on a slate approved by the state Department of Agriculture, so I do understand your point and empathize. But you forget the tens of thousands of people affected annually by food poisoning. This makes vitamins orders of magnitude safer than food, especially fresh foods, and are thus more deserving of your praise for safety and efficacy. You also seem to forget that vitamins are regulated as a special, highly regulated food category by the federal government (by law), and not as drugs. If it is so 'easy' to "get what you need from food" then why does your own report admit that only 3% of us get the minimal nutrient levels from our diet? That really disproves this tired old mantra, doesn't it? It is pure institutional bias that prevents the NIH from recommending multiple vitamins, when even the mainstream medical journal JAMA has done so years ago. If you remember (I do), it took the federal government 20+ years to endorse the use of folic acid to fortify foods denatured of that essential vitamin, during which entire time the evidence was already strong that it could prevent birth defects; with a request in to the Nixon administration that it was time to take action. The March of Dimes recommended this fortification long before the government finally caved in (during the Clinton administration!), but meanwhile thousands of children were born each year with potentially preventable and predictable birth defects while waiting for the perpetually elusive 'more conclusive evidence'. But there never seems to be enough evidence when we're talking about dietary supplements. Even a multiple vitamin taken by the mothers should have been enough to spare these children, but the government still to this day won't fully act to protect people's health by recommending that the 97% of us not eating even minimally right take a simple and safe daily multivitamin, as many doctors already recommend. Are we so set on forcing people to eat right, when they clearly won't, that we should all just pretend that taking a multivitamin as nutritional 'insurance' is somehow fundamentally wrong? In good conscience, I can't do that. I know better. And so do most Americans, who have opted to take vitamins and do so without much risk. Perhaps you haven’t noticed the reports that our food supply has dramatically dropped in nutritional value over the past half century due to factors such as chemical farming, less nutritious plant varieties, changes in storage and handling, etc? The nutritional content of U.S. fruits and vegetables has declined over the past 50 years, according to a researcher at the University of Texas. Cited in an article by Scripps Howard News Service, biochemist Donald Davis said that of 13 major nutrients in fruits and vegetables tracked by the Agriculture Department from 1950 to 1999, six (protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C) all showed noticeable declines. Declines ranged from 6% for protein, 20% for vitamin C, and 38% for riboflavin. [February 2006, official meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis, MO] Data from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) showed that, between 1940 and 1991, trace minerals in UK fruits and vegetables fell by up to 76 per cent, and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures showed similar declines. [McCance and Widdowson 1940–1991, The Composition of Foods, 1st to 5th editions, published by MAFF/RSC] [Mayer AM, 1997, ‘Historical changes in the mineral content of fruits and vegetables’, in Lockeretz W (ed.), Agricultural Production and Nutrition, Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Boston, MA, p 69–77. See also British Food Journal 99(6), p207–211] [Bergner P, 1997, The Healing Power of Minerals, Special Nutrients and Trace Elements, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA, p 312] Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA

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