Friday, December 20, 2013

So why isn't the FTC doing something about vitamin and supplement advertising?

According to their website the mission of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC for short) is "to prevent business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers..."  Really?  You could have fooled me. 

On December 16, 2013, the Annals of Internal Medicine published an editorial accompanied by two original studies and a review of existing research entitled "Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements."  Why?  Because they don't work.  (Forbes, 2013)

This is hardly new news.  Evidence has been mounting for years.  In 2009, the Wall Street Journal published Jennifer Corbett Dooren's article "Vitamins Fail to Reduce Health Risks for Women," detailing the results of what was then the largest multivitamin study in postmenopausal women conducted to date.  The results of the NIH sponsored study were published in the Feb. 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, and they showed taking vitamins and supplements resulted in  "no meaningful benefit."  (Dooren, 2009)

In 2011, Peter Murray writing for SingularityHUB published an article entitled "Studies consistently fail to show benefits of dietary supplements -- experts think it's time to reevaluate," which discussed several studies (Iowa Woman's Health and SELECT) which actually showed increased mortality and prostate cancer for those who took vitamins/supplements versus those who didn't.  (Murray, 2011)

And then there's my personal favorite, posted by Alice on her wholegrainalice  blog in September 2011 entitled "Vitamin Pills Don't Work," which lists, with references, all of the studies published which not only failed to show positive effects for vitamins but also unearthed some negative ones.  (Alice, 2011)

As far as I know the only study to date that has showed a positive result was the 2012 Centrum study of multi-vitamins on healthy 50+ male doctors.  And given the selectivity of the participants included in the study, I think their advertising should carry a  legal disclaimer  -- which of course it doesn't.   (Rabin, 2012)

But that doesn't begin to compare with the hundreds of false ads we see daily for these products.  Ads that lead to $30 billion in sales in 2011.  Even while the public continues to get sicker.  What's the point of funding government agencies to protect consumers when they are clearly not doing anything of the kind?

The FDA says it doesn't regulate vitamins and supplements because they are not drugs.  Really?  If people are taking them to prevent disease and increase longevity then it sounds like they are drugs to me.  But hey,  I'm an advertising maven so I say it's time for the FTC to step in where the FDA has let us down and protect the public from these false claims.  Isn't that what they're supposed to be doing?

Forbes, T. (2013, December 17)  Journal Recommends 'None-A-Day' Multivitamins.  Retrieved December 17, 2013, from,

Dooren, J. (2009, February 10)  Vitamins Fail to Reduce Health Risks for Women.  Retrieved February 10, 2009, from

Murray, P. (2011, October 31)  Studies consistently fail to show benefits of dietary supplements -- experts think it's time to reevaluate.  Retrieved October 31, 2011, from

Rabin, R. (2012, October 22)  Curbing the Enthusiasm on Daily Multivitamins.  Retrieved October 22, 2012, from

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