Are Vitamins a Waste of Money? the EU Wants to Ban 250 Dietary Supplements and Curb Dosages of the Others. Is It Right to Do So? HEALTH & FITNESS

The Evening Standard (London, England), April 12, 2005 | Go to article overview

Are Vitamins a Waste of Money? the EU Wants to Ban 250 Dietary Supplements and Curb Dosages of the Others. Is It Right to Do So? HEALTH & FITNESS


Byline: DR MARK PORTER;JENNY SEAGROVE

YES SAYS Dr MARK PORTER

THE British market for supplements is worth [pounds sterling]400 million a year and driven by a potent mix of quackery and vested commercial interest. Why do the same people who pore over a leaflet listing side effects before taking a pill swallow handfuls of vitamins without question?

Because vitamins are vital for life, it's commonly believed that consuming more must enhance vitality - which is as naive as thinking your car will run faster if you put an extra litre of fuel in the tank.

Then there are the myths based on what happens if you become deficient in a vitamin. Vitamin A deficiency may lead to night blindness, but that doesn't mean that vitamin A supplements will help you see in the dark.

Vitamins are considered to be natural.

Not, however, in the doses most people take them, and despite quaint names and clever packaging, most supplements are manufactured by industrial giants driven by profit.

It's also been said that vitamins A, C and E have a useful ability to mop up damaging chemicals called free radicals produced by noxious hazards, such as UV radiation, smoking and traffic pollution. Ergo, taking high doses of these antioxidants should help ward off degenerative conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

Sadly not. Lab-based predictions have failed to translate into real-world benefits. Studies have shown that high doses of A, C and E are not protective; indeed, they may be dangerous.

Medicines are subject to regulation and there is a system in place for monitoring drug safety. But no such regulation is applied to supplements, making it possible to buy them in the sort of doses that are known to trigger heart attacks and strokes, harm unborn babies, thin bones and cause kidney, liver and nerve damage.

Some supplements, such as folic acid, selenium and zinc, do have proven benefits in some people, and will rightly survive tighter regulation, but most of the rest will not. I shall not mourn their demise.

NO SAYS JENNY SEAGROVE

Actress and campaigner

IT IS our fundamental right to take care of ourselves - and the way we do it is our choice. I'm tired of reading that most vitamin and mineral supplements are unnecessary - I use them and know their value. …

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