Studying the risks and benefits of dietary supplements has always posed unique challenges to researchers. To potentially support conclusive recommendations, these studies must enroll thousands of people and follow them for years. Additionally, as dietary supplements are regulated as foods, products can be sold without demonstrating efficacy.
These factors can result in exaggerated research findings and conflicting health messages to consumers. To help advance the field and better inform the public, the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has published the 2006 Annual Bibliography of Significant Advances in Dietary Supplement Research, highlighting 25 of the most significant dietary supplement research advances of the past year.
“When we initiated this project in 1999, our objective was to give researchers credit for raising the bar on supplement research and encourage others to follow their lead,” said Paul M. Coates, Ph.D., director of ODS. “However, even the highlighted studies should be viewed as clues, not verdicts. Just because a study points to a compound having an interesting effect doesn’t mean we are ready to make a broad public health recommendation.” The Annual Bibliography is part of ODS’ commitment to improve the quality of dietary supplement research and subsequent health messages.
The 2006 Annual Bibliography highlights emerging findings from a diverse array of laboratory and human studies. These include the potentially favorable effects of black cohosh in bone remodeling, ginkgo and omega-3 fatty acids in cognitive health and slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, resveratrol as an anti-inflammatory compound, and vitamin D in reducing prostate cancer risk.
“If these preliminary findings are substantiated in more rigorous studies, they could lay the foundation for some exciting health milestones — but only time will tell,” said Rebecca B. Costello, Ph.D., editor of the Annual Bibliography.
Since its inception, ODS has used the Annual Bibliography to track emerging areas of dietary supplement research, identify needs, and make recommendations to the research community. The 2005 Annual Bibliography noted that study materials were not described sufficiently to enable other researchers to confirm the findings. “It is encouraging to see that many leading journals are now requiring authors to make their research more transparent by providing specifics about their study design,” said Leila Saldanha, Ph.D., R.D., co-editor of the Annual Bibliography.
Now in its eighth issue, the Annual Bibliography included the top 25 papers based on the rankings of recognized experts in the fields of nutrition, botanical sciences, and public health. These were selected from about 300 papers that appeared in more than 45 peer-reviewed scientific journals. Over 50 percent of the studies that appear in the 2006 Annual Bibliography received funding from the NIH.