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EDITIONS
Friday, 30 August, 2002, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Warning on vitamin use
Vitamins are 'a waste of money'
Too many vitamins 'can cause harm'
Taking extra vitamins is unnecessary for most people and may be harmful if taken in large quantities, a health watchdog has decided.

The Food Standards Agency has confirmed that if people eat a healthy, balanced diet, they should not need to take supplements as well.

Recommended upper safety limits:
Vitamin B6 - 10 milligrammes/day
Beta-carotene - 7 mg/day
Vitamin E - 727mg/day
Copper - 5mg/day
Zinc - 25 mg/day
Selenium - 0.2 mg/day
Silicon - 1,500 mg/day
Nickel - 0.16mg/day
Boron - 5.93mg/day
The agency has issued recommended safety limits on nine commonly used vitamins and mineral supplements amid concerns that consumers are potentially putting themselves at risk from overuse.

The list includes Vitamins E and B6, zinc, copper, nickel, silicon, beta-carotene, boron and selenium.

The FSA is to discuss its recommendations with manufacturers, health chiefs and consumer groups.

Its final report will then be submitted to the EU, which is planning to introduce maximum safety levels for supplements.

However, manufacturers, who have previously operated a voluntary code of conduct, have refused to accept that there is a significant risk to consumers.

Lack of evidence

The FSA's Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals (EVM) has criticised the lack of proper studies available on which to assess the safety of supplements.

The group is particularly concerned at the failure to assess the impact of supplements on children and older people.

On vitamin C, it says consumption of more than 1,000 milligrammes a day could lead to stomach problems, including diarrhoea and wind.

While Vitmin B6 in high levels has been linked to nerve damage, memory loss and loss of balance.

However, The EVM does accept that supplements are beneficial for certain groups. These include:

  • Pregnant women, or those of child-bearing age, who should take 0.4 milligrams of folic acid in supplement form a day to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in their baby
  • Children aged six months to two years are also said to benefit from drops of vitamins A, C and D
The report has also suggested guidance on a further 22 vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, folic acid and vitamins B12, D and K.

It recommends a ban on the trace mineral germanium, at one time hailed as a treatment for cancer.

Germanium has been linked to damage to the kidney, muscles and nerves.


Derogatory statements about vitamins have been based on the assumption that people in western countries have a balanced, adequate diet

Dr Ann Walker
Professor Michael Langman, chairman of the EVM, said: "The EVM has responded to public concern over safe upper levels of vitamins and minerals.

"A broad range of data was considered in depth by the group, which includes representatives from consumer groups and industry.

"We are now seeking consultation responses on draft recommendations."

Industry defence

Dr Ann Walker, of the Health Supplements Information Service, said many studies had shown the positive benefits of taking supplements.

She said: "Derogatory statements about vitamins have been based on the assumption that people in western countries have a balanced, adequate diet. That is an incorrect assumption.

"The government's own survey figures consistently show that modern diet provides less than target levels of folic acid, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins for many vulnerable groups in society."

It is estimated that 10m people in the UK take supplements every day. The industry is worth nearly 350m a year.

A study by Oxford University published earlier this year failed to find any health benefits from taking vitamins C, E and beta-carotene. However, it did not find any evidence of risk.

An attempt by ministers four years ago to limit counter sales of vitamin B dropped after more than 110,000 letters of protest from the public.

Responses to the suggestions can be made by November 21 after which the EVM will produce a final report for the FSA.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"More and more of us are popping pills"
See also:

05 Jul 02 | Health
13 Mar 02 | Health
29 Apr 02 | Health
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