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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
Are vitamins good for you?

People taking large doses of certain vitamins and minerals may permanently damage their health according to the Food Standards Agency.

In a major review of 31 vitamins and minerals, experts discovered that high levels of beta-carotene and zinc may have irreversible harmful effects when taken over a long period.

There were also concerns that high doses of vitamin C, calcium and iron could harm health but long-term damage could be avoided if people stop taking them.

Will the findings stop you taking supplements? Are we becoming addicted to vitamins? Or can they form an important boost to our diet?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

How balanced and natural is our food today?
Aisha, Egypt

Definitely supplements are needed, within reason. Food used to be sufficient last century, but with the chemicals, preservatives, hormones used to increase output and prevent plant killers, how balanced and natural is our food today?
Aisha, Egypt

Since all this has hit the headlines I have thought twice about myself being addicted to a vitamin culture. I take in excess of 10 a day. But I am an ex-smoker who smoked for fifteen years. I completely turned my life around from living to smoke, always subject to the viruses floating around (If your a smoker you'll know exactly what I mean), to a very healthy, never ill, strong, active lifestyle. Vitamins helped me stop smoking! Not only did they help me flush out my system but they also gave the energy to live for the love of living. Cigarettes, Alcohol, Class A Drugs, Pollution are what real concerns people should attack.
Peter, England

The pharmaceutical industry will be the only ones to benefit from the proposed EU ban
Martin, UK

The Food Standards Agency is ridiculously alarmist and as a naturopath I question the sources of their information. Essentially vitamins and minerals maximise health not only by making up for poor quality food but also therapeutically as many can rectify ailments without the need for chemical drugs. The pharmaceutical industry will be the only ones to benefit from the proposed EU ban despite the fact that literally thousands of people die from the effects of prescribed drugs - why is this data never publicised?
Martin, UK

How many times do people need to be told that a balanced diet will provide them with all the necessary vitamins and minerals?
Dr Jeff Prackowski, England

When one takes too much of any tablet, that's drug abuse. Just because they are classed as vitamins and nutritional supplements doesn't mean they are not drugs. So keep any intake in moderation and then you can ignore the contradictory advices.
Yinka, UK

I take several vitamins and minerals each day and so far the only obvious result is that I don't seem to catch my friends' and family's colds! What has happened to freedom of choice? What with the EU this nanny government, I feel as if 1984 is back with a vengeance! I am tired of being told what to eat and drink and what not to eat & drink. I am now off to the nearest burger bar and then the pub! Bye!
Ann, Orpington, UK

Every piece of dietary advice I have ever heard was later contradicted
Alan, UK

Every piece of dietary advice I have ever heard was later contradicted. High fibre cereals we were once told contain no worthwhile nourishment, then we were told we should eat lots of it to prevent cancer, later we are told that it actually causes cancer. Red wine was good for you and then wasn't. Pasta's status as a healthy or unhealthy food has changed so often that I cannot keep up. Now it's vitamins that are bad for you. Personally I just eat what I like and ignore all this contradictory advice. I am sure they will discover any day soon that too much fruit and vegetables are bad for you and that you should be living on a diet of tequila and fry-ups.
Alan, UK

I take every vitamin on the shelves and even order some over the internet. I didn't know they could cause harm. How would I find out if the vitamins I take could cause harm?
Kathleen, U.S.A.

It's all very well to say that we can get all the nutrients we need from a balanced diet, but the increasing lack of nutrient levels in the soil where crops are grown means there's less vitamins and minerals in our food than there used to be - selenium is a good example, and studies show that most people in the UK get less than half the RDA in their diet. Also take into account how long supposedly 'fresh' produce has been in cold storage - apparently, it's not unusual for potatoes to be stored for nine months before they get onto the supermarket shelves. So unless you grow your own fruit and vegetables (and eat them as soon as they're dug up), and monitor the nutrient levels in your soil, you'll never know if you're getting everything you need.
Chrissie, UK

Our diets, whether balanced or not, are just not good enough
John McVey, Scotland

It used to said that an apple a day would keep the doctor away. Now, we have to eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day in order to get the required dosage of vitamins and minerals in our diet. The increased consumption of fruit and veg is now necessary because of the relatively poor quality of food being produced by modern farming methods, primarily the increased usage of pesticides and artificial fertilisers. If you take this to its logical conclusion it becomes apparent that our diets, whether balanced or not, are just not good enough. Quite simply, if we feel the need to take food supplements, it's just as likely that we feel the food we eat to be deficient in itself, regardless of it being fruit and veg or junk.
John McVey, Scotland

I have been taking an effervescent vitamin supplement (berocca)which contains large doses of several vitamins and doses. I am worried what the long term consequences of this may be. It has to be said that the only effects I feel on a day to day basis is improved health, feeling more alert, alive and less sickness. Can that really be so bad?
Sam Watson, UK

I would like to know if the studies have been performed on natural vitamins or synthetic ones. I have been told there is a big difference.
Dave Clements, UK

It is important that the public react to this official drivel by insisting on their right to choose
Alex Newell, England

Another biased report by a group of academics! As a Naturopath and Nutritionist part of my job is to help individuals plan a healthy diet and a healthy vitamin and mineral programme. The FSA is part of a government that brought us BSE and GM crops. Their science is 50 years out of date and their credibility is nil. We all need an individual programme of supplements worked out by an independent advisor who knows us and our health. It is important that the public react to this official drivel by insisting on their right to choose.
Alex Newell, England

If you go into a health food shop it is quite common to see single vitamin pills that have an astronomical amount of the active substance compared with the RDA. These should be looked at closely I feel. The prices of these are also extortionate.
Dominic Shields, Wales

Aside from the likelihood that the FSA's advice will be contradicted by another report sooner or later, the oft-repeated reference to "a balanced diet" is a pointer to a real issue: lots of people do not have a balanced diet.
Robin Davies, Wales

I am someone who's become addicted to vitamins
Rachael, Oxfordshire, UK

I am someone who's become addicted to vitamins. Every night before I go to bed, I take at least six supplements. Since taking starting to take them almost three years ago, I haven't come down with a single illness and iron tablets are a godsend to me. Dangerous or not, I'll be continuing to take them. My health has been so much improved since I started taking them.
Rachael, Oxfordshire, UK

A lot of the fruit and vegetables we eat are not fresh - I frequently take produce back to my local supermarket because it has gone mouldy even though its nowhere near its sell by date - and TV programmes have reported that some meat products past their sell by date is sent back to centres to be re-dated. The quality of our food needs to be drastically improved so that people will not feel that they need to take supplements.
Marian Bentley, UK

It is in their interest for the general populace to be under par in terms of health
Giles Heaton, England

Every time you see an article that tries to put you off from taking extra vitamins, take a look and see who created the article... Pharmaceutical companies make drugs, and sell drugs (at usually high prices). It is in their interest for the general populace to be under par in terms of health, because they can then provide the "solution" in the form of unnatural drugs (which usually have a string of bad side effects and can cause insanities in people).
Giles Heaton, England

If it's not natural, it's not good for you. Simple rule of dietary advice. So save your money on vitamins, eat more fruit and veg, and find something more worthy to worry about.
Antonia, England

Drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies are subjected to intensive trials for several years before they are allowed on the market. Vitamin supplements should be subjected to the same rigorous procedures before going on sale. People seem to have this misguided notion that because something is "natural" then it is automatically good for them.
Alex H, UK

The FSA is being extremely simplistic and irresponsible here. Very few people have a nutritionally-balanced diet throughout the year. For example, seasonal availability of food, lack of sunshine, and undetected illness can wreak havoc with vitamin intake. Temporary iron-deficient anaemia is extremely common, and undetected gluten allergy also can cause malnutrition. If people feel supplements are doing them good - they are probably right. The greatest dietary threat to health remains excessive alcohol!
Tom, UK

Every week I read that something else is going to kill me yet we are all living longer than ever
James, UK

I'm totally confused. Vitamins are good for me but might be bad for my health, alcohol is bad for me but I should drink some every day etc, etc. I think that the problem might be that no-one is coordinating all the research. Various groups all bring out their own 'findings' with their own agendas and the consumer is left confused. Every week I read that something else is going to kill me yet we are all living longer than ever.
James, UK

Yes, of course vitamins are good for you if you get the required dose. Most things that we consume on a daily basis can be bad for you if you take too much, such as chocolate, alcohol and salt, but which have various benefits in small quantities.
Peter, UK

The majority of people can get all the vitamins they need from a good balanced diet. Exceptions might be those with medical conditions that make the absorption of vitamins/minerals difficult or like pregnant women take folic acid, anaemics take iron supplements. For most other people they are complete waste of time and money.
Mandy, UK

Why have all vitamins been lumped together in one headline warning?
Graham Hale, UK

This report seems to be a little alarmist. Some supplements carry risks and the dose needs to be monitored, but why have all vitamins been lumped together in one headline warning? Vitamin C in particular has been shown to be completely safe in high doses and to give nothing but health benefits. Since I started taking 10 grams per day I have stopped getting heavy colds and feel lighter and more alert. To be on the safe side I monitor the news reports on vitamin C regularly through the www and have seen nothing to justify the kind of warning given in the FSA report for this vitamin.
Graham Hale, UK

As all toxicologists know, any substance is poisonous if ingested in a large enough quantity. The difference between an advantageous effect and a damaging consequence is simply a matter of dosage. My view is that a balanced diet provides all the nutritional requirements for an inherently healthy person, without the need for extras and additives.
Chris Hunter, UK

Can someone explain why a ban is being suggested on certain chemicals found in vitamin supplements because they are believed to cause health problems yet no ban is in place on cigarettes which have been proven to cause health problems and death to millions of people every year?
Andy, Wales

Warning over vitamin doses
07 May 03  |  Health

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