Health alert over supplements


Taking too many vitamins can cause permanent damage to health and even cause cancer, experts have warned.

They say eight vitamin and mineral supplements should be given recommended safe upper levels and one - chromium picolinate, found in many diet supplements - should be banned as it might cause cancer.

High doses of beta carotene, nicotinic acid, zinc, manganese, phosphorus and vitamin B6 could also cause irreversible damage, they added.

Taking too many vitamin C, calcium and iron supplements may be harmful, although consumers are unlikely to suffer any long-term effects if they stop taking them.

The warning comes as a report is published today by the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals, which tested supplements on sale in Britain.

It produced a list of 31 vitamins and minerals which have been scrutinised by the Food Safety Agency.

FSA chairman Sir John Krebs said: 'While in most cases you get all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet, many people choose to take supplements. But taking some highdose supplements over a long period of time can be harmful.'

The FSA has ordered an independent review of the expert group's evidence to draw up guidelines for consumers.

The supplements industry welcomed the report, claiming it confirmed its own voluntary upper limits.

FSA experts meet today to discuss recommending supplement makers limit doses and put health warnings on packaging.

How supplements can harm you

  • Vitamin A: Taken for healthy bones and teeth. Too much can cause liver problems, fatigue, bone pain and birth defects.

  • Vitamin B6: Maintains healthy skin and digestive system. Can cause loss of sensation in the hands and feet in long-term if daily limit regularly exceeded.

  • Zinc: Improves skin, hair and nails, but too much can cause immune system problems.

  • Vitamin C: Prevents colds and scurvy. Can cause diarrhoea but the effects are reversible.

  • Calcium: For strong bones. High doses may cause temporary diarrhoea.