Based on a thorough review of the scientific literature, the hazard identification step outlines the adverse health effects that have been demonstrated to be caused by the nutrient. The primary types of data used as background for identifying nutrient hazards in humans are as follows:
Human studies. Human data provide the most relevant kind of information for hazard identification and, when they are of sufficient quality and extent, are given greatest weight. However, the number of controlled human toxicity studies conducted in a clinical setting is very limited because of ethical reasons. Such studies are generally most useful for identifying very mild (and ordinarily reversible) adverse effects. Observational studies that focus on well-defined populations with clear exposures to a range of nutrient intake levels are useful for establishing a relationship between exposure and effect. Observational data in the form of case reports or anecdotal evidence are used for developing hypotheses that can lead to knowledge of causal associations. Sometimes a series of case reports, if it shows a clear and distinct pattern of effects, may be reasonably convincing on the question of causality.
Animal data. Most of the available data used in regulatory risk assessments come from controlled laboratory experiments in animals, usually mammalian species other than humans (e.g., rodents). Such data are used in part because human data on nonessential chemicals are generally very limited. Moreover, there is a long-standing history of the use of animal studies to identify the toxic properties of chemical substances, and there is no inherent reason why animal data should not be relevant to the evaluation of nutrient toxicity. Animal studies offer several advantages over human studies. They can, for example, be readily controlled so that causal relationships can be recognized. It is possible to identify the full range of toxic effects produced by a chemical, over a wide range of exposures, and to establish dose-response relationships. The effects of chronic exposures can be identified in far less time than they can with the use of epidemiological methods. All these advantages of animal data, however, may not always overcome the fact that species differences in response to chemical substances can sometimes be profound, and any extrapolation of animal data to predict human response needs to take into account this possibility.