Another nano consumer product gets negative attention in Germany

(Nanowerk Spotlight) The discussion about the health scare caused by the "Magic-Nano" sealing spray (which, as it turned out, was neither magic nor nano - see this article) has barely ebbed when questions about another nano consumer product arise. This time, it is not a health scare but rather the opposite – alleged health benefits of nanoparticles.
The German company Neosino AG markets a nutritional supplement, called "Nanosilimagna", containing calcium, silicon, and magnesium, in which the elements concerned are said to be in the form of nanoparticles (3-10 nm), and for which the company claims absorbability superior to that of other physical forms of the same elemental nutrients.
The German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel reports in its online edition of August 3, 2006 that two scientific studies it commissioned showed that the Neosino product claims are simply wrong. Not only did they not show superior absorbability, they performed worse with regard to magnesium absorbability than an off-the-shelf product from the supermarket. The super expensive Neosino product costs €49.95 (∼$60) for 45 grams; the supermarket pills were €0.60 for 90 grams!
Der Spiegel asked the Osteoporosis Research Center (ORC) of Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, USA, to address the question of absorption of calcium and magnesium from Nanosilimagna with a specific study in 12 volunteers. Robert Heaney at Creighton’s ORC, one of the leading experts worldwide in the field of bone biology and calcium nutrition, and his team have extensive experience in measuring absorbability of various calcium sources, both food and supplement.
Heaney's report states: "The data generated in this study provide no evidence either for greater absorption or for faster absorption of the calcium in Nanosilimagna than from the effervescent calcium sources. By contrast, Nanosilimagna was clearly inferior to the effervescent tablet in magnesium absorption. At no time point did the magnesium excretion differ significantly from zero, a finding compatible with a conclusion of essentially zero bioavailability for the magnesium component of Nanosilimagna." The report concludes: "...there is no hint of significant superiority of Nanosilimagna in the data generated by this study."
An explanation could be that the Neosino products, contrary to the company's claims, don't contain any nanoparticles. A TV report (Panorama) in March claimed exactly that. The German courts are now dealing with this issue.
Nanoparticles or not, nutritional supplements such as the Neosino products do not have to undergo the extensive clinical studies that are required for pharmaceutical products. The market for these products is huge. In the U.S. alone sales of nutritional supplements such as vitamins and minerals is an over $5 billion a year business. This might tempt some manufacturers or distributors to exaggerate or simply make up claims regarding the benefits of their products. Until someone makes the effort to test them...
It remains to be seen what continued controversy about "nano"-labeled consumer products does for consumer confidence and acceptance. It probably wouldn't take much for consumers to develop a (healthy) dose of skepticism towards nanotech products. But as with any previous "next big thing" technology, there is a certain gold rush mentality involving commercial nanotechnology products, companies, and investment opportunities that inevitably will run its course.
Michael Berger By – Michael is author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:
Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,
Nanotechnology: The Future is Tiny, and
Nanoengineering: The Skills and Tools Making Technology Invisible
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