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Eat Your Fruits and Veggies in Pills?

I've been asked why I would endorse a product that sounds too good to be true. It seems that a salesman for a popular vitamin-mineral-nutritional supplement based on extracts from fruits and vegetables wrote a letter that stated that I endorsed his product. I have never endorsed any vitamins or other nutritional supplements because I believe that you should get the nutrients your body needs from your food.

The promotional message from these supplements is very simple: fruits and vegetables are good for us. Capture their goodness in convenient products. Add endorsements, testimonials, a pinch of fear, a scientific veneer, and several dollops of deception. Then harness the power of multilevel marketing to spread the word.

In the 1980s, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reported that people who eat lots of whole-grain cereals, fruits, and vegetables have a lower incidence of certain cancers [3], so they recommend eating lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables per day.

One of the keys to selling multi-level products is testimonials. "Since I have taken this product, I have been cured of cancer, hair loss and everything else". Testimonials, of course, should not be regarded as valid evidence. Without well-designed tests, it is impossible to tell whether changes that take place after taking a product are the result of the product, a placebo effect, or other factors such the fact that many symptoms change with the passage of time.

The unreliability of testimonials was dramatically illustrated by the case of former football star O.J. Simpson, who was charged with stabbing to death his wife and her friend Ronald Goldman. In March 1994, shortly before these murders took place, he was videotaped telling 4,000 distributors at a sales meeting that a popular supplement had cured his arthritis. Testimony in the murder case indicated that he was also taking sulfasalazine, a standard anti-inflammatory drug that could have relieved his symptoms. Subsequently, his defense attorneys presented medical testimony that Simpson was so crippled by arthritis that he could not have committed the murders .

Distributors of one product receive a manual suggesting that each food source offers a special health benefit. Apples, for example, are said to "contain boron, a trace mineral that affects the electrical activity of the brain, increasing mental alertness." Oranges are said to "contain every class of cancer inhibitor known." Acerola cherries are "a source of vitamin C, known to relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis." Carrots are said to lower cholesterol, parsley to be "good for the heart and immune system," kale to be a "powerful cancer fighter," and cabbage is "thought to block breast cancer." Even if these claims are true, there is no reason to conclude that taking capsules of extracts from these plants would provide the same benefit.

Data show that plants are healthful. I don't believe that any extract from food can be more healthful than that food. When you buy products such as these, you have no idea what you are taking or whether any of the benefits you get from eating plants will be gained by taking the product. I recommend that you save your money.

1)Wise JA, Morin RJ and others. Changes in plasma carotenoid, alpha-tocopherol, and lipid peroxide levels in response to supplementation with concentrated fruit and vegetable extracts: A pilot study. Current Therapeutic Research 57:445-461, 1996. Barrett S. The Rise and Fall of United Sciences of America. Quackwatch, Sept 19, 1999.

2) Barrett S. Health or Hype? A Report on United Sciences of America. New York: American Council on Science and Health, 1987.

3) Natural Alternatives International. Annual 10-K report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Filed Sept 28, 1999. Page 41 of the report indicates that three companies (NSA, NuSkin International, and Pharmavite were responsible for 16%, 23%, and 32% of NAI's sales during the reporting period. However, the report does not indicate which company was responsible for which number. 3a)Rapola JM and others. Randomised trial of alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene supplements on incidence of major coronary events in men with previous myocardial infraction. Lancet, 349:1715-1720, 1997.

4) Omenn GS and others. Effects of a combination of beta carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. New England Journal of Medicine 334:1150-1155, 1996.

5) Why megadoses of beta carotene may promote lung cancer. USDA Agricultural Research Service Food & Nutrition Research Briefs, Jan 1999, p. 1.

6) Vitamin supplements. The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics 40:75-77, 1999.

7) DuBois R. Homocysteine, Oxidative Stress, Pathogenesis and Prevention of Disease. NSA Videotape, 1998.

Checked 6/1/14

June 1st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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