The Irish Times view on vitamins: More is not better
There is a long-standing belief among consumers that ‘more is better’ when it comes to vitamins and minerals
There is a long standing belief among Irish consumers that “more is better” when it comes to vitamins and minerals. This needs to be challenged. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Along with an increased awareness of the importance of lifestyle in maintaining health has come a growth in consumption of vitamin and mineral supplements. According to a new report from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) scientific committee, the number of products on the market has risen from 700 in 2007 to over 2,500 in 2017 – an increase of more than 300 per cent.
It has published guidelines setting out the highest dietary intakes of micronutrients that are safe for people of different ages and genders, with the aim of helping consumers understand the amounts of vitamins and minerals that are excessive. The FSAI is especially concerned about the safety of children and pregnant women.
The only food supplements specifically recommended by the FSAI are folic acid for women who are sexually active (with the aim of preventing neural tube defects in early pregnancy) and vitamin D3 supplements for all infants from birth to 12 months. For the rest of the population a well balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will ensure an adequate intake of nutrients.
New guidelines aimed at the food supplement industry are included in the report. These outline a process that the industry can use to establish maximum safe levels for 21 of the 30 vitamins and minerals permitted in food supplements in Ireland. The FSAI says there is an onus on the food supplement industry to take the new guidance on board, reformulate their products, and provide labels that consumers can easily understand.
When vitamins are consumed in amounts surplus to requirements, the body either stores or excretes the excess. Excess water-soluble vitamins are excreted in urine while excess fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. In general, an excess of fat-soluble vitamins poses a greater risk of causing toxicity. For example, excessive vitamin D intake leads to high levels of calcium in the blood which may cause kidney damage. There is a long-standing belief among consumers that “more is better” when it comes to vitamins and minerals. This needs to be challenged.