Opportunities and challenges in conducting systematic reviews to support the development of nutrient reference values: vitamin A as an example
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Nutrient reference values have significant public health and policy implications. Given the importance of defining reliable nutrient reference values, there is a need for an explicit, objective, and transparent process to set these values. The Tufts Medical Center Evidence-based Practice Center assembled a group of nutrition experts from academic institutions and federal government agencies, led participants in discussions, conducted exercises in formulating questions and evidence review criteria that would be amenable to systematic reviews of the scientific literature, performed a literature search on the questions to identify potentially relevant publications, and identified challenges and limitations of applying this method to support the development of nutrient reference values using vitamin A as an example. The workgroup concluded that the systematic review approach could be productively used to inform the development of reference values. Challenges identified in this exercise include prioritizing and defining research questions when the volume of literature is large, relying on intermediate (surrogate) outcomes when few or no studies directly linking nutrient intake with clinical outcomes are available, and determining reliable nutrient biomarkers. Ultimately, an objective, unbiased systematic review of a defined question could be useful, not only in helping to set nutrient reference values, but also for increasing the transparency of the decision making process.
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