April 12, 2006

Science or Sizzle?

Washington Post dignifies snake oil this morning, in the form of "black vitamins." There is some fact here - there are well known differences between populations of humans (or worms for that matter) that we can see (their phenotype) and we know that they come in part from genes (their genotype). But it takes more to treat people based on how they appear than just bad guesses about how to identify and respond nutritionally to their genes. And seriously, even good mass-market "maintenance" vitamin products aren't that good.

BiDil didn't go very well, and it was based on good guesses. A good guess is that this will not only be unsuccessful as a product, because it is like selling stigma, but also that it may well confuse the public at large about vitamins and what they can and can't do:

The GenSpec brand of dietary supplements, proclaimed to be the "first genetically specific product line," aims distinct products at blacks, whites and Hispanics, and at men and women within each group.

GenSpec's multivitamins for African American and Hispanic males and females, for instance, contain higher amounts of vitamin D because, the Florida-based maker of the products says, the skin of darker-toned people doesn't make as much vitamin D from the sun as that of lighter-skinned people.

Unique "physiological and metabolic differences" can make certain groups more likely to develop some diseases, said Joseph Lander, president and founder of GenSpec. The small company, which also sells race-targeted weight-loss pills, bases its products on research into key racial health distinctions, Lander said. The company plans to start selling an Asian multivitamin in the next month.

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