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NIH Record

5-Year Plan Developed
Office of Dietary Supplements Marks First Anniversary

Imagine a birthday celebration where dozens of guests arrive first to congratulate you then to tell you what they think you ought to be doing with your life. Such was the case Feb. 19 when an interagency forum convened at Stone House to review a draft strategic plan for NIH's Office of Dietary Supplements.

The office was established at NIH in November 1995 as a result of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act passed by Congress in 1994. The goals of ODS are to explore more fully the potential role of dietary supplements as a significant part of the efforts of the United States to improve health care; promote scientific study of the benefits of dietary supplements in maintaining health and chronic disease; and conduct and coordinate scientific research within NIH relating to dietary supplements.

ODS, part of NIH's Office of Disease Prevention, has begun to flourish since its rocky inception a year ago when director Dr. Bernadette Marriott arrived to find the federal government mired in both furlough and deep snow. Overcoming this handicap, ODS rallied to hold a series of six developmental planning meetings involving 83 scientists and professionals from academia and industry in the past year; the draft plan integrated all of that input.

On hand for the Office of Dietary Supplements' recent planning session were (from l), ODS director Dr. Bernadette Marriott, Dr. William Harlan, director of NIH's Office of Disease Prevention, and Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, NIH deputy director.

"This has been a really remarkable accomp-lishment,"said ODP director Dr. William Harlan. "It goes beyond that to be truly extraordinary, considering it occurred in less than a year." He credited ODS with soliciting direction from "a broad spectrum of people and views...people at NIH not often tapped for advice.

"The office has built a road map with mile posts establishing a very rigid set of criteria," noted Harlan, adding that the diverse collection of advisors not only managed to settle on some goals for ODS, but also "had a lot of fun working on the plan."

NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein also praised the quick start: "Dr. Marriott and her small staff have done a remarkable job," she said, and have established a plan "built on trust and mutual interest. In the end, we expect that everyone will be receptive to the plan."

Cautioning that "everything (in the draft plan) is open to change," Marriott said the meeting was "a brainstorming session" to help the office achieve its mandate of improving the quality of science in dietary supplement research. Attendees hailed from NIH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, National Center for Health Statistics, the President's Commission on Dietary Supplements Labels, U.S. Army, Health Resources and Services Administration and the Library of Congress. A final draft of the strategic plan, titled On the Threshold of Discovery: Merging Science and Supplements to Promote Health, is expected this summer.

Issues within the purview of the office are the stuff of headlines: Can folic acid improve reproductive outcomes? What are the safe upper limits of vitamin B intake? Can amino acids treat psychological conditions? What affect does melatonin have on sleep and aging? What are the effects of caffeine on physical performance?

Hot topics in the field arise almost as quickly as newspaper editions. Since many supplements have never been studied scientifically, it is important for ODS to promote and support the conduct of research to determine the benefits and risks of promising dietary supplements, and to interpret findings for the public.

Marriott, the first ODS director, came to NIH in late 1995 from the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board, where she was deputy director. She received a Ph.D. in experimental psychology in 1976 from King's College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, then studied comparative medicine at Johns Hopkins. She was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1970 to 1972 at the University of Mashhad, Iran. Marriott has also lived and worked in Scotland and Puerto Rico, and has done field research and taught in Afghanistan, Nepal and Panama. She has been on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, University of Puerto Rico and Goucher College.

Her research has focused on natural food supplementation and micronutrient requirements in human and nonhuman primates. She has studied the long-term feeding habits of nonhuman primates in natural habitats and the laboratory. Much of her work has been conducted in collaboration with scientists at USDA's Human Nutrition Center in Beltsville, Md.

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