Large-scale randomized clinical trials of bioactives and nutrients in relation to human health and disease prevention - Lessons from the VITAL and COSMOS trials

Mol Aspects Med. 2018 Jun;61:12-17. doi: 10.1016/j.mam.2017.12.001. Epub 2017 Dec 29.


Several bioactive compounds and nutrients in foods have physiological properties that are beneficial for human health. While nutrients typically have clear definitions with established levels of recommended intakes, bioactive compounds often lack such a definition. Although a food-based approach is often the optimal approach to ensure adequate intake of bioactives and nutrients, these components are also often produced as dietary supplements. However, many of these supplements are not sufficiently studied and have an unclear role in chronic disease prevention. Randomized trials are considered the gold standard of study designs, but have not been fully applied to understand the effects of bioactives and nutrients. We review the specific role of large-scale trials to test whether bioactives and nutrients have an effect on health outcomes through several crucial components of trial design, including selection of intervention, recruitment, compliance, outcome selection, and interpretation and generalizability of study findings. We will discuss these components in the context of two randomized clinical trials, the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) and the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS). We will mainly focus on dietary supplements of bioactives and nutrients while also emphasizing the need for translation and integration with food-based trials that are of vital importance within nutritional research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease*
  • Humans
  • Nutrients / pharmacology*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Translational Research, Biomedical


  • Phytochemicals