Sense and Nonsense of Dietary Supplements

Scientific evaluation of Cardiovascular health benefits of dietary supplements

Mission: Nutraceuticals —– Health Claims ——- EFSA Regulation —-

NutraceuticalsNutrition and dietary supplements are rapidly gaining public interest. People increasingly start to realize that nutrition has a major impact on well-being and the risk of developing age related diseases. This is reflected by the rapidly growing nutraceutical market that is expected to reach 250 billion dollars in 2018. As such the functional food and nutraceuticals market is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. The past decade the scientific community also has begun to realize nutrition’s major impact on public health. More and more studies showing the potency of healthy nutrition in preventing disease are being published. In these studies dietary interventions often outperform conventional preventive medicine. Based on these studies consensus is growing that our current lifestyles, imbalanced nutrition and the resulting nutritional deficits are the most important reason of the epidemic increase of age related diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Impact of healthy nutrition

Considering the human body evolved in an environment that required a large amount of physical activity and provided a highly varied nutrition containing fruit, vegetables, nuts and limited amounts of meat, animal proteins and saturated fatty acids, it is no surprise that our current diet does not supply the necessary nutrients in balanced amounts that suit our inactive lifestyles. The western type diet that more and more includes processed foods like fast food, convenience food, snacks and ready meals, often lacks essential nutrients. Even adaptation to a varied and healthy diet still results in a lack of many essential nutrients in adequate doses. This is due to modern cultivation techniques that manipulate crops to grow fast on a very poor soil, leading to a reduced nutrient content. In addition, the use of toxic fertilizers and sprays, green harvesting (picking fruit before it is ripe and freezing it), long term storage, freezing, drying, processing and unnatural additives all contribute to the reduction in quality of our food supply. This causes fruit and vegetables to contain significantly less vitamins, fibers and minerals compared to for example 50 years ago. Due to this unbalanced nutritional intake the human body is unable to execute the necessary maintenance to protect itself against diseases and allow healthy aging. Recent health indicator studies confirm this paradigm. These studies show that the countries with highest healthcare expenditure have only moderate scores on health indicators, while countries with a healthy lifestyle and nutrition with lower healthcare expenditure are in the top range.

These novel insights and the side effects of chronic use of medication like cholesterol lowering statins, beta-blockers and anticoagulants has made people eager to try natural / nutritional methods that help prevent the need for such medication at older age. The increased interest in dietary supplements to prevent disease is substantiated by the rapidly increasing impact of healthcare cost on the family budget. With the rising amounts

Health Claims

Unfortunately, the ever changing nutritional advices and often contradictory scientific data on healthy nutrition spread by the media make it very hard for consumers to separate reliable from unreliable information. As an example, one day the media can be all over how red wine consumption is healthy and helps to prevent CVD, while the next day all newspapers publish that red wine consumption causes colon cancer. As a result the public is confused and a large number of medical specialists is actively discouraging the use of dietary supplements. On top of that the new European health claims regulation of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that became of affect in December 2012, made the communication of health benefits of dietary supplements even more confusing. From this date health claims made in relation to food products require authorisation under Regulation EC 1924/2006 before they can be used in the labelling and advertising of dietary supplements. This regulation is designed to force manufacturers to provide more reliable health claims for their products. However, in practice this regulation is extremely strict. As a result, in many cases it actually prohibits manufacturers to adequately inform consumers of the health benefits of dietary supplements, even if the effect of the supplement is proven in a wide range of randomized controlled trials. So, yes, due to this regulation consumers can be sure that health claims made are scientifically proven, but a large number of health benefits cannot be communicated anymore. As a result the marketing machines of the dietary supplement manufacturers can only spread vague information on health benefits of their dietary supplements, which results in misinformed consumers and a misleading perception of the health benefits of dietary supplements. Due to this highly inconsistent and often misleading communication, consumers do not trust the information provided by supplement manufacturers and are unable to make informed nutritional decisions. While in a time of co-pays and deductibles on health care costs, modern society is more and more focussing on self-care and disease prevention. Therefore a large number of people, especially the age group between 40-80 years, is looking for high quality dietary supplements with a clear proven effect on disease prevention.

To make matters worse, consumers cannot rely on governmental institutes like the Dutch Voedingscentrum and Gezondheidsraad, because these mostly are highly conservative and do not adapt their advices to the current state-of-the-art. Nutritional advice of these institutes is often 10-20 years behind on current scientific knowledge. For example, in The Netherlands the maximum daily dose of vitamin D in dietary supplements was just recently increased from 5 µg to 25 µg, while scientific studies show that daily intake should be at least 50 µg and the EFSA increased the recommended daily intake to 100 µg. This clearly shows the slow adaptation of recommendations by governmental institutes. Due to these rapid changes and conflicting information, an urgent consumer demand for a trustworthy and up-to-date source of information on the sense and nonsense of dietary supplements is growing.



The mission of this website is to provide high quality scientifically substantiated evidence to whoever is interested. It will point out which dietary supplement ingredients have been proven to have health benefits and which ingredients have not been scientifically substantiated.

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