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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Evaluating Nutrition (and Food) Risk

By Michael McBurney

Every day we are confronted with risks: crossing streets, not wearing seatbelts, walking under upright ladders, failing to lockout equipment, not wearing safety glasses or hearing protection, running across wet floors, living in tornado zones, wearing bicycle helmets, etc. Some activities are more hazardous than others. The challenge is assessing the magnitude of the risk.

For the past two days, I participated on a Food Advisory Committee convened by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Committee was tasked to provide answers on data collection requirements, prioritization, and implementations to reduce the risks of food hazards and to prioritize FDA decision-making processes. It was an interesting two days of discussion. Recommendations were published by the FDA within 24h after the meeting ended. A most impressive example of government in action.

Everyone wants foods to be safe. Because microbial hazards are the largest food safety issue,  it is important to remember our own food-handling responsibilities: proper hand washing, clean food preparation surfaces, proper storage and cooking. We expect the same of our food producers, processors, and distributors.  In addition to sanitary inspections, regulations help ensure that foods are not contaminated with chemical hazards, including dioxins, PCBs, heavy metals, and antibiotic residues.

90% of all food –allergic reactions are attributable to 8 foods (peanut, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish). Foods containing allergens should be labeled. Jennifer North, Vice President of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness commended the FDA for finalizing its gluten-free food labeling rule and asked for additional guidance with respect to restaurants and foodservices.

Our bodies require essential nutrients to function normally. These nutrients are needed for cellular function every day. While boluses of some nutrients, e.g. vitamin A and vitamin D, may help overcome deficiencies, the practice isn’t ideal and in some cases, e.g. iron and vitamin A (retinol), can be toxic.

Kearns and colleagues examined the effect of administering 250,000 IU vitamin D3 orally on serum vitamin D concentrations in 28 young healthy participants with average baseline serum 25(OH)D3 concentrations of 43.8 nmol/L. The study was initiated in early winter (November). Serum vitamin D concentrations peaked and returned to baseline at 90 days.  The authors concluded that a single oral dose of vitamin D3 did not prevent seasonal decline in serum 25(OH)D3 concentrations. The study clearly demonstrates  the importance of regular vitamin D intake.

Risk is the chance of harm or injury. With respect to food and supplement safety, responsible companies want the FDA to enforce regulations so that consumers are protected. As consumers, we shouldn’t gamble with our health. Nutrition is a life habit. Whenever possible, sustenance should be routine rather than using a feast and famine approach.  Balance. Variety. Moderation.

Main Citation

Kearns MD, Binongo JNG, Watson D, Alvarez JA, Lodin D, Ziegler TR, Tangpricha V. The effect of a single, large bolus of vitamin D in healthy adults over the winter and following year: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. 2014 Eur J Clin Nutr doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.209

Other Citations

Hathcock JN, Hattan DG, Jenkins MY, McDonald JT< Sundaresan PR, Wilkening VL. Evaluation of vitamin A toxicity. 1990 Am J Clin Nutr 52(2):183-202

Leventis P, Kiely PDW. The tolerability and biochemical effects of high-dose bolus vitamin D2 and D3 supplementation in patients with vitamin D insufficiency. 2009 Scand J Rheumatol doi: 10.1080/03009740802419081

Crosby WH. Prescribing iron? Think safely. 1978 JAMA Int Med doi: 10.1001/archinte.1978.03630290062020

Rodahl K, Moore T. The vitamin A content and toxicity of bear and seal liver. 1943 Biochem J 37(2): 166-168