Vitamins, Canada and a Lesson for NIH

J0400813_1 With proposals before Congress (see Legislative section to the right) to allow the FDA additional power to regulate the industry of vitamins and supplements, there have been recent developments of note.

Last week, the National Institutes of Health held a State of the Science conference and issued a statement on the role of multiple vitamins in the prevention of chronic disease.  A State of the Science conference is one of two types of conferences that the NIH holds to define the science in a given area.  The other is a Consensus Conference.  The difference between the two is that a consensus conference is held when there is enough science on a topic that creates general agreement.  A State of the Science conference is held when there is not enough science for a consensus.

What came out of the conference from last week were a lot of headlines questioning whether multiple vitamins were of use.  That is not exactly what the conference stated, but the media need to paint things in black and white in order to prepare a story – or so they seem to think.

However, Canada’s Independent Vitamin Safety Review Panel came up with their own draft report this week which expressed the sentiment that the NIH stacked the deck against vitamins in putting together the conference.

This vitamin war between nations is serious.  One casualty could be NIH credibility.  It better not be.  NIH now should go to extremes to demonstrate that it put together that conference in good faith.  If it can’t do that, it is well to remember that which I have often stated here before – a charge unanswered is a charge admitted.  This is not to say the Canadians are right, but their statement certainly leaves NIH with some questions to answer – and they should answer them. 

To that end, the Canadian statement is well reasoned and thought out.  It would be better if this expression of opinion had happened in private than in public, but it is public now.  NIH had better answer, or its credibility could go the way of FDA, where the latest Harris poll demonstrates a dramatic loss of confidence by the public in the agency. 

Whether or not the vitamin and supplement industry needs more regulation is another matter.  But the debate should not be shaped by innuendo and a stacking of the deck.  There has been enough of that during this Administration, as the situation in Iraq exemplifies.  Rather public policy decisions should be based on fact and each and every agency, including NIH and FDA, should go to great lengths to assure their credible approaches.  The NIH should learn from FDA gaffes with medical marijuana and the Plan B fiasco.

South Park – get ready!  Blame Canada!

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