Vitamin supplements: Just a dangerous waste of time and money?
18th December 2013
vitamin supplementsVitamin supplements are a waste of your money, unnecessary, offer very little in the way of health benefits, and could even be harmful, according to a group of scientists in the USA. These damning conclusions were drawn up by academics from the University of Warwick and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA. They studied almost 500,000 people across three separate research papers, counteracting the continuous claims that are made by the vitamin supplement industry – thought to be worth around £738 million in the UK alone last year and predicted to rise to £788 million by 2017. One of the research papers included a retrospective study of 24 past trials comprising of 450,000 people, concluding there seemed to be no beneficial impact on mortality after a long-term intake of vitamin supplements. A second paper looked at cognitive decline in 6,000 male doctors aged at least 65, summarising there seemed to be no benefits following 12 years of half taking a daily multivitamin containing vitamins A, B, C, E and beta carotene, and half a placebo. In addition, a third saw no difference in 1,700 men and women over the age of 50 with heart problems over an average study of five years. Those featured in the third paper had all suffered a heart attack six weeks prior to half being administered a high dose of multivitamins and minerals, coming in the form of a tablet that contained 28 components, whilst the remaining half were given a placebo. During the next four and a half years, any subsequent deaths were recorded, or second heart attacks, strokes or hospital treatment for angina or surgery. There appeared to be no difference in the two groups. The scientists said the daily taking of multivitamins is simply not justified, writing: “These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.” They said a typical Western diet should suffice in providing the vital vitamins that our bodies require. Edgar Miller, of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said: “There are some that advocate we have many nutritional deficiencies in our diet. The truth is though we are in general overfed, our diet is completely adequate.” He added: “These companies are marketing products to us based on perceptions of deficiencies. They make us think our diet is unhealthy, and that they can help us make up for these deficiencies and stop chronic illnesses. The group that needs these is very small. It's not the general population…There's something for everything: preventing joint pains, stopping heart disease. If you're going to spend your money on something every month, is this really the best option?” Previous statistics have shown that over a third of Brits are taking a vitamin tablet each day, but the numbers are decreasing. Research company Mintel estimated that 41% of the population were regularly taking dietary supplements in 2008, but that number had dropped to 35% in 2012. Maybe this is partly an after-effect of the crippling financial crisis that has gripped Britain in recent years, or it could be down to changing attitudes towards the benefits of vitamin supplements, especially when you consider the fact that in 2012 there was a 5% rise on the year before in the spending on fruit and vegetables in Britain. What the future holds for an industry that is churning out these vitamin pills by the millions remains to be seen. Many would argue there is no good substitute for nutritious food within a healthy diet. With supplements you are plunging high levels of vitamins and minerals into your body that you would not normally get, or sometimes even need, and people often forget there is actually  a serious danger of having too much of a good thing, so to speak. It then starts getting messy when everything is loaded into one tablet as different components fight for absorption. For example, excessive amounts of calcium result in your body struggling to absorb iron, whereas high levels of iron mean you won’t absorb zinc.  The best thing to do before taking any supplements is to speak to your own GP and discuss what, if anything, you actually need. It could be that your diet alone is providing your body with sufficient vitamins and minerals.