Thursday, September 17, 2009

Vitamin supplements are largely a waste of money, says professor

Healthy people are wasting money on vitamin supplements and at worst may be harming their health, according to a leading nutritionist.
Brian Ratcliffe, of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, said that most of those taking the supplements were among the “worried well” and would be unlikely to gain any appreciable health benefits from taking vitamin and mineral tablets or fish oil capsules.
They would be better advised simply to improve their diets, he said, adding, however, that supplements could be valuable for elderly people.
Professor Ratcliffe told the British Science Festival: “A lot of people are taking a belt-and-braces approach to their health but they often don’t need these supplements. My biggest worry is that they’re wasting their money and fuelling an industry that’s exploiting their fears.”
A common misconception is that if something is good for you, more of it is better, he said. The body has a limited capacity to metabolise nutrients such as vitamin C. The recommended daily intake of is 60mg, yet tablets can contain up to 3g. “If you take 1.5g of vitamin C in one go, 75 per cent of it will go straight through you and end up in the toilet. These large doses are just a waste of money.”
Supplements could even be detrimental to health, he said. At particular risk are those taking a daily cocktail of supplements.
Taking a multi-vitamin tablet along with cod liver oil capsules, for instance, could mean exceeding the recommended daily dose of vitamin A, which is 0.7mg for men and 0.6mg for women.
This could result in headaches and nausea and in the long term be harmful to the liver and increase the risk of osteoporosis. “There’s a chance of people dabbling in areas where there is potential for harm,” he said.
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