Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Vitamins is a $28B+ placebo industry

Based on multiple medical studies, Annals of Internal Medicine declares the multivitamin industry a fraud:

...we believe that the case is closed— supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.

Despite sobering evidence of no benefit or possible harm, use of multivitamin supplements increased among U.S. adults from 30% between 1988 to 1994 to 39% between 2003 to 2006, while overall use of dietary supplements increased from 42% to 53% (9). Longitudinal and secular trends show a steady increase in multivitamin supplement use and a decline in use of some individual supplements, such as β-carotene and vitamin E. The decline in use of β-carotene and vitamin E supplements followed reports of adverse outcomes in lung cancer and all-cause mortality, respectively. In contrast, sales of multivitamins and other supplements have not been affected by major studies with null results, and the U.S. supplement industry continues to grow, reaching $28 billion in annual sales in 2010. Similar trends have been observed in the United Kingdom and in other European countries.

The key notion here is "well-nourished." Since people don't know whether they are well-nourished or not, taking vitamins solves an important problem: it simplifies our efforts to find and stick to the right diet. That is, instead of a complex task to select the right food, we can simply take a vitamin pill to make sure we (our children, parents, and pets) get "the right" nourishment.

When food supplies were scares and of low quality supplementing it with vitamins and minerals was a great innovation. As the food industry caught up with the trend, the need for the supplements disappeared, but the perception of the need did not.

Moreover, the trend spread to pets! When we got our dog, the breeder recommended a whole range of dietary supplements from vitamins to "grass" tablets. Needless to say, that dogs don't need any of that stuff because they, unlike humans and monkeys, produce most vitamins internally. Despite being useless, pet food supplements are extremely popular and profitable. And they serve the same purpose as supplements for humans - generate a placebo effect.

I wonder, when a similar "enough is enough" article is going to be published about organic foods.

tags: control, industry, trend, science, biology, business

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