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Tuesday, June 9, 1998 Published at 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK


Forget vitamin pills - eat your greens

Vitamin pills: no panacea

England coach Glenn Hoddle is convinced that he has a secret weapon for World Cup success - vitamin supplements.

Each player in the squad has been given his own regime of vitamin pills designed to boost performance and turn the team into world beaters.

It would seem the rest of the country agrees with him: vitamin pills are big business. Each year the British public spends £3m on dietary supplements, and many people think they are the vital ingredient for a healthy, active life.

However, experts have warned against over reliance on the bewildering array of pills which are now available.

John Brewer, head of sports science at Lilleshall National Sports Centre, said vitamin pills did not do any harm, but they could lull people into a false sense of security.

"The only 'danger' with vitamin pills is that they could be used as an excuse for a bad diet," he said.

"People can think that taking a few pills gives them an excuse to go and eat rubbish, but vitamin pills are not a substitute for a good diet.

No need for pills

"The first recommendation should be to make sure you have a diet that is balanced, healthy and nutritious - if that is the case there really should not be any need for vitamin pills at all."

Mr Brewer said there were instances where vitamin supplements were needed as a boost to diet.

[ image: Vitamin supplements could add bite to Ince's tackles]
Vitamin supplements could add bite to Ince's tackles
For example, people suffering from anaemia needed iron supplements, young girls were often short of calcium, and people on restricted diets sometimes needed pills to boost their vitamin intake.

GP and broadcaster Dr Rosemary Leonard agreed. She said: "There is no doubt among nutritionists that you are best to get your vitamins and minerals from a healthy, balanced diet.

"The problem is what is a healthy, balanced diet and are you eating sensibly? Most people if they look at their diet would say it could be improved."

Harmful to the body

There is some controversy about whether overdosing on vitamin supplements could actually be harmful to the body.

Dr Leonard said: "With some of the anti-oxidant vitamins, which are A,C,E and Beta-Carotene, you may well be doing yourself some good preventing heart disease and cancer by taking in a lot more than the daily allowance.

However, we do know that particularly mega doses of vitamin C which people go in for in the winter in the idea they could prevent a cold could give you kidney stones, or could give you diarrohea.

You can definitely have too much of a good thing."

Expensive urine

Mr Brewer is sceptical that vitamin pills could damage your health. "You can overdo it and in excess anything will be harmful," he said, "but you are likely to produce very expensive urine as a lot of these vitamins go straight through and out the other end.

"As long as you follow manufacturers' instructions you should not come to any harm.

"My main advice is to eat a diet which is high in carbohydrate, low in fat, especially animal fat, with a sensible amount of protein and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables."

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