Former Visiting Professor Patrick Holford is Head of Science and Education at Biocare so he has a substantial and understandable interest in selling supplements. Creating a large-scale market for supplements depends upon several factors. The factors include convincing people that:
- they have clinical or ‘sub-clinical’ vitamin or mineral deficiencies
- the food that is commonly available and forms their regular diet is deficient in vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients
- there is good evidence that supplements improve health or are adequate prophylactics.
All of these claims will be familiar from regular media items or the work of those with self-conferred expertise in nutritionism.
There are recent items in the newspapers that amplify these factors without exploring them. It looks as if the market for supplements is growing as people look to cut back on their health care costs.
Sales of vitamins and nutritional supplements, which have grown consistently for years, have surged in recent months, rising as the stock market has fallen. People are clearly cutting back on many items, from bread and milk to designer jeans and flat-screen televisions, but they are stocking up on pills that they think can spare them expensive doctor visits…
Doctors caution against putting too much faith in supplements…
But science does not seem to have shaken everyone’s faith. Amy Breslin, who is 33 and studying to be a physician’s assistant, has pared back on fresh fruits and vegetables and stocked up instead on fish oil capsules and antioxidant supplements.
“Organics are expensive,” she said at a vitamin store in Los Angeles. “Supplements may be more of a bang for my buck.”
Seriously? Supplements are being promoted and accepted as better value and more beneficial than actual food? Food that presents a full gamut of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins, essential fats, fibre, etc. etc. irrespective of its organic or non-organic status?
Yes, some own brand supplements are a pound or so a month but Patrick Holford and his ilk do not promote those supplements, they promote their own or lend their endorsement to products that have enough of a margin to allow for suitable commissions: Cherry Active Concentrate (and again as a supposed equivalent of 23 portions of fruit and vegetables if you were to interpret equivalence in a very narrow way).
Consider Holford’s recent excited endorsement of the Vitazyme range of products: each of the products is advertised at £26.45 for a 14 day supply.
Squeezing 52 fruit & veg into one 10ml sachet sounds like magic. And that’s exactly how you’ll feel after taking Vitazyme Energy [Newsletter: The next generation of nutrition, 8 April 2009]
This stupor mundi, Vitazyme® Energy,
[contains] a unique liquid phyto-nutrient blend of 52 types of fruit and vegetable, Vitazyme® Energy gives you vitality for an active mind and body. Quickly absorbed, it helps sustain feelings of energy and endurance.
In the face of such interesting claims it is unfortunate that Holford fails to provide any evidence for these claims of rapid absorption and there is no indication of just how ‘rapidly’ this occurs or how sustained it is, or what plasma levels are modified. Ditto, there is nothing to indicate the the claims about “feelings of energy and endurance” have ever been assessed. It all sounds exciting but the list of ingredients, nutrients and other useful items is missing from the section on ‘additional information’.
Intrigued, we found the ingredients list and nutrient information on the manufacturer’s site.
INGREDIENTS per 2 sachets: 23,9 grams fruit and vegetable (Vitazyme®) mix of apple, asparagus, avocado, banana, bell pepper, blueberry, white cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, cayenne pepper, cherry, Chinese cabbage, corn, cranberry, aubergine, ginger, grape, great burdock, green tea, guava, kiwi fruit, lemon, mango, cantaloupe melon, mulberry, mungbean, orange, papaya, parsley, peach, pear, pineapple, Japanese plum, pumpkin, radish, rapeseed, red raspberry, sesame, adzuki bean, French bean, soybean, spinach, sprouting broccoli, strawberry, tomato, turmeric, turnip, water chestnut, watercress, watermelon and Reishi mushroom; Cordyceps sinensis extract 100 mg…
Nutritional value per 2 sachets = 20ml: vitamin C 60 mg (100% RDA), thiamin (vitamin B1) 2,1 mg (150% RDA), riboflavin (vitamin B2) 0,7 mg (43% RDA), niacin 5,3 mg (29% RDA), vitamin B6 3,6 mg (180% RDA), folic acid 41 mcg (20% RDA), vitamin B12 3,8 mcg (380% RDA), pantothenic acid 4 mg (67% RDA). SOD-like activity 1.000 units.
RDA =Recommended Daily Allowance
Although the manufacturer mentions 20kg of vegetables and fruit to produce 10ml sachets of Vitazyme® it is not clear whether each sachet or even brace of them is the distilled extract of these 20kg. Now, just in case you were wondering about the nutritional benefits of this product, do those numbers look anything like the nutritional profile that you would expect to see from 20 kg of fruit and vegetables? Aren’t they more than a little workaday and plain unspectacular for something that costs around £90 per litre and is promoted as “magic”?
And there is something a little niggling about the profile, given the emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables.
We are puzzled by the listing of “folic acid” in the nutritional profile. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate; folate is found in foodstuffs such as dark green leafy vegetables. It looks as if folic acid is added at some point during processing which makes sense because this product is fermented[a] and at various stages water is removed which would take water-soluble vitamins such as folate and even vitamin C with it. Looking at the nutritional profile, we wonder if the vitamin C is also added at the final ‘blending’ of the mix, after most of the 540 days of processing have finished (possibly in the form of acerola cherry which is a common source).
Similarly, looking at the profile, it seems plausible that some of the B vitamins are the useful by-products of the fermentation process rather than vitamins from the ‘natural’ starting materials. We at HolfordWatch don’t have a problem with that but Holford is typically opposed to synthetic vitamins and he frequently recommends avoidance of yeast-derived products (probably some of the ones used in the Vitazyme fermentation[a] process).
A study of a similar fruit and vegetable extract product resulted in some useful observations:
the manufacturer acknowledges that some micronutrients are added to restore the levels of micronutrients lost during processing and to ensure uniformity in the final product.
It is entirely sensible that a manufacturer should wish to standardise a product. However, if some of the vitamins in Vitazyme are derived from synthetic sources or the by-product of fermentation, it might be useful if Holford mentioned that somewhere amidst the promotion of “unique liquid phyto-nutrient blend of 52 types of fruit and vegetable”. The rhetoric seems to be about the fruit and vegetables but the derived nutrients from these seem to be unimpressive or even absent in the final product.
As ever, the assumptions are that consumers are typically eating a nutrient-depleted diet (no evidence) and that products such as this will correct unevidenced deficiencies or have a prophylactic effect or therapeutic impact (for which there is no evidence). Holford endorses similar concentrates and ‘super-foods’ such as Cherry Active Concentrate and Mangosteen Juice.
The makers of Vitazyme® Energy advise that their supplement is not intended as a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. It is easy to see the advantages of these products and others that Holford endorses for Holford’s own finances. However, if consumers are strapped for money and needing to tighten their belts, for £1.89 for the recommended daily intake of this product, plus (say) another £1.89 for Vitazyme® Relax to help you sleep, would it not be tastier and better value for money to spend the £3.78, per person, per day on some actual fruit and vegetables to eat, maybe even a little dark chocolate or good-quality cocoa?
[a] For more than most people ever want to know about fermentation but a fascinating insight into the various processes, bacteria, yeast and fermentation processes, we recommend: Fermented fruit and vegetables: a global perspective.