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Centrum vitamins called out for over-the-top claims

Consumer Reports News: July 11, 2012 11:08 AM

Under threat of a lawsuit from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, healthcare giant Pfizer has agreed to remove claims related to breast and colon health from some of its Centrum brand multivitamins, and to tone down certain other claims that the CSPI alleged are misleading.

Labels for Centrum Ultra Women's and Centrum Silver Women's multivitamin supplements currently say that those products support "breast health," while Centrum Ultra Men's and Centrum Silver Ultra Men's labels say they support "colon health." According to the CSPI, Pfizer based the claims in part on the inclusion of vitamin D in those products. But the evidence on vitamin D's relationship to breast cancer is limited and inconsistent, the group said, and the evidence on colon cancer isn't conclusive.

The CSPI alleged that Centrum's breast and colon claims implied that the products would help prevent breast and colon cancer, which supplement makers legally aren't allowed to say. (Any claim that a supplement actually prevents or treats illness is off-limits; the manufacturers can only claim that it aids in the structure or function of a body part or system, which explains those vague wordings you see on supplement labels like "supports energy" or "supports the normal function of the immune system.")

As part of the agreement, announced July 5, Pfizer will also add clarifying language on Centrum products that make claims about heart health (saying that they aren't a replacement for cholesterol-lowering drugs) and energy (clarifying that they don't boost energy but rather "help support metabolic function"). The company will make the changes on its website and ads within 30 days, and on product labels over the next 6 months.

A statement from Pfizer said that the company "disagrees with CSPI's concerns but has agreed to make these changes in order to fully resolve the issues raised by the organization."

Claims aside, do you even need a multivitamin? Check out our latest evidence-based advice on multis and other vitamins, plus Ratings of 21 multivitamin products. And keep in mind that the best source of nutrients is food, not pills.

Jamie Kopf

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