Take Your Vitamins, and Your Research, with a Healthy Dose of Skepticism


The vitamin and supplement world is back in the headlines again, and it’s not a pretty picture. USA Today, The New York Times, and a best-selling book are all shouting the same message: the supplement industry is full of fakes, frauds, and danger. The man behind all of these stories is Dr. Paul Offit, a respected medical expert. LabDoor is well aware of the myriad issues in this industry, and built its mission around bringing trust and transparency to a messy market. But it’s also important to filter the hype and hyperbole out of Dr. Offit’s message.

First, while Dr. Offit does identify a number of recent studies that highlight the potential for supplement overdoses, there are also hundreds of studies that find significant health benefits from acute and chronic supplement usage. The most-cited study recently, which followed the usage of Centrum Silver vs. a placebo for nearly fifteen years, is a particularly important example. LabDoor loves large-scale, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, and this one tells an important story: “daily multivitamin supplementation modestly but significantly reduces the risk of total cancer.” The media loves a sensational story, and “Don’t Take Your Vitamins” is an excellent headline hook sure to boost page views. But Offit’s own book highlights many ‘non-traditional’ methods that out-perform conventional medicine. Why? Because prevention often trumps curative solutions.

Second, it’s easy to point at a broken system, excoriate it, and then walk away. Most of us are happy to look at an institution like Congress and do just that. It takes leaders like Code for America willing to wade into the mess and find the solutions. When LabDoor points out research that shows over 70% of dietary supplements have inaccurate label data, our goal is to focus attention on the 30% of products worth trusting. Also, honestly, LabDoor tracks this data because when the proportion of accurate labels increases, we want to be able to take a little credit for shifting an entire market towards greater transparency.

Third, and most importantly, focus on the compounds that keep coming up in Offit’s featured studies – vitamins A, E, and beta-carotene. Our followers who paid attention in high school chemistry will notice a pattern. They are all fat-soluble vitamins, which means they are stored in the body for longer periods of time. This is an important point, and one that should be duly noted. LabDoor’s grading algorithms carefully weigh the risks of fat-soluble vitamin megadosages. It’s why a daily vitamin pack that contains over 200% of the daily value of Vitamin A will likely score lower on ingredient safety than one with under 100% DV. However, it’s poor science to throw out an entire industry, one that features hundreds of active ingredients, over these studies.

Consumers, LabDoor, and Dr. Offit are all on the same team here. We all want to see safe, effective products highlighted in the market, and weak, contaminated products sent away. We’re long overdue for a real consumer watchdog in this space. There’s little chance Congress will overturn DSHEA, so the FDA isn’t riding in to save the day any time soon. It’s up to all of us to focus on real science, and find the facts. And LabDoor will be there every step of the way.

  • Header Image: Jamie (Flickr)