Research suggests diet supplements taken by one in three Britons have no clear health benefits and might even be harmful
Vitamin supplements almost never have health benefits, are a waste of money and could even be harmful, a group of scientists said in a damning indictment of the industry.
Despite one in three Britons taking vitamins or mineral pills, evidence from studies of almost 500,000 people suggested that “supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults … has no clear benefit and might even be harmful.”
The conclusions were drawn by British and US academics at the University of Warwick and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The scientists also suggested that companies selling supplements were fuelling false health anxieties to offer unnecessary cures, according to the Times.
Three research papers helped inform their opinion, one of which, analysing 24 previous trials involving 450,000 people, found no beneficial effect on mortality from taking vitamins.
Another examined 6,000 elderly men and found no improvement on cognitive decline after 12 years of taking supplements, while a third saw no advantage of supplements among 1,700 men and women with heart problems over an average study of five years.
The experts said most supplements should be avoided as their use is not justified. They wrote: “These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.”
They said that an average western diet was sufficient to provide the vitamins the body needs. 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.”
Miller continued: “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?
The NHS advised recently that other than women hoping to conceive taking folic acid and the elderly and children under five benefiting from vitamin D, supplementary vitamins would be surplus to that already gained through diet, the Times said.
The Health Food Manufacturers’ Association said vitamin supplements provided people with “nutritional insurance”.