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Fiber, Folic Acid Supplements Can't Claim Health Benefits

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In the case of dietary fiber and colorectal cancer, Lewis wrote to the plaintiffs, "The evidence is no longer inconclusive. Results of four randomized, controlled intervention studies in humans consistently show a lack of relationship between dietary fiber and risk of colorectal cancer." In light of new evidence, she added that any disclaimer also would be misleading. "The weight of the evidence for a health claim about dietary fiber and colorectal cancer is outweighed by the evidence against such a claim," she wrote.

In the case of folates, Lewis told the plaintiffs that the proposed claim was misleading because it, too, was not supported by enough evidence and, as a result, improperly implied that the dietary supplement was more effective than food. The agency is "not aware of any statement that could adequately qualify this proposed claim," she added. But the FDA would entertain a qualified claim, promoting the possible effects of all folates on neural tube defects, she said.

Despite the outcome, the decision might satisfy both the court and the supplement industry.

Why? Because the new framework the FDA will use to review dietary supplement claims represents a significant shift away from the agency's previous standards, says William Soller, PhD, scientific director for Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade organization representing dietary supplement and over-the-counter drugmakers. Under the new system, the agency seems to be signaling that it will now take a broader look at the benefits of a claim rather than judging only the risk to consumers, Soller explains.

Soller adds that the FDA seems to be making an honest attempt to implement the Pearson decision. "They understand that a better risk assessment is needed," he tells WebMD.

The FDA says it will now evaluate all claims through this two-tiered system until it can finalize its proposed new rules. That means the agency will first determine if there is significant scientific evidence supporting a claim, but then, if there at least is some strong scientific evidence to support the claim, the FDA will entertain qualifying.

Still, reservations remain as to whether this new system will work and whether the agency can apply those standards consistently.

For one, the standard of significant scientific support sets the same high barrier established by the older standard, which automatically disqualified products due to a lack of substantial research, Soller observes.

"Only time can tell if this is a major shift. The proof is in the pudding," Soller tells WebMD.

The petitioners themselves could not be contacted for comment at the time this story was written.

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