KILLER VITAMINS; Millions Take Vitamin Pills Daily in the Belief That Their Health Is Being Enhanced. but Here, One of Britain's Top Nutritionists Warns That They Can Cause Malnutrition, Organ Failure and Even Death

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Byline: CATHERINE COLLINS

THE idea that popping vitamin supplements is buying some form of health insurance is nonsense. The truth is that the [pounds sterling]300 million we spend every year on vitamin supplements is almost entirely money down the drain.

Even worse, many of these vitamins may actually be very bad for us - and could even kill us.

There is absolutely no proof that supplements do most people any good whatsoever. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that high-dose vitamins can actually be dangerous.

We are the guinea pigs of the future.

And that's why I'm delighted that the Government - prompted by the European Union - plans to ban some 300 so-called health foods and supplements in July.

I know that my support for the ban will not be popular. But for years we've been fed a series of myths by the health supplement industry.

We're told that vitamins are a natural extension of food and therefore cannot be bad for us.

That's just nonsense. When they occur naturally in food, vitamins are undoubtedly beneficial. And I see no harm in people taking very small doses of vitamin supplements. They can be useful if you're pregnant, elderly or suffer from a chronic disease such as osteoporosis.

But the average vitamin C effervescent tablet contains the equivalent of four litres of orange juice.

When you take a level of a nutrient that far exceeds the physiological needs of the average person, common sense says it can't really be any good for us.

It used to be thought that our bodies got rid of excess vitamins with no side effects. However, proof is now coming in that - far from being harmless - taking too many vitamins can be extremely dangerous.

WE KNOW that vitamins A, C and E have antioxidant properties which are helpful in protecting against cancer. So scientists in the U.S. decided to test whether vitamins can prevent cancer.

Taking 2,000 smokers, they gave half of them a high dose of beta carotene supplement - the equivalent of six carrots a day.

Four years later, the trial had to be abandoned because, to the scientists' horror, the supplements weren't simply making no difference: they actually seemed to cause an 18 per cent rise in lung cancer among the testers. A study in Finland found eerily similar results.

It now seems that because vitamins help blood cell regeneration, the high-level supplements can boost tumours so they grow quicker and more aggressively. It's the complete opposite of the commonly held belief that vitamins are probably beneficial, and at worst harmless.

The American researchers followed the group up four years after the trial had been abandoned. They expected that, despite the lung cancer figures, the extra vitamins might at least have provided protection in other areas.

But their findings, published in 2004, recorded that there was absolutely no difference in the incidence of other cancers, heart disease and other problems in the two groups. Taking vitamins solidly for four years provided no health benefits whatsoever.

Another recent study from America shows increased risk of heart attack in patients taking high doses of vitamin E.

It has also been found that high doses of vitamin A cause the acceleration of osteoporosis, while high doses of the B group vitamins can lead to nerve tingling in the feet and legs.

And those are just the symptoms we are immediately aware of. We don't even know the full reasons why these things happen.

It does, however, make sense. If you take a couple of painkillers for a headache, you do no harm. But if you take 200, your body goes into liver failure and you die.

In the same way, pumping our bodies full of unnecessary vitamins is potentially lethal.

It's a myth that no one has ever died or suffered from taking vitamins.

The truth is that, as there is still so little evidence, it's impossible to know the full effects. …