As the temperature drops and coughs and colds spread, stores are filling up with vitamin tablets and adverts promising they will boost our immune systems and protect us from getting ill.
But how effective are supplements, and are we being miss-sold a quick-fix for good health?
The term vitamins and minerals sounds shrouded in mystery, but it simply refers to the nutrients that your body needs to function correctly, such as iron, calcium and vitamin C.
It might seem logical, then, that we should take supplements in order to strengthen our immune systems.
However, a widely-cited 2013 study into chronic conditions concluded that vitamin pills have virtually no long-term health benefits for well-nourished adults, and may even be harmful.
Calling into question the habit of one in three Britons who knocked back vitamins and minerals at the time in the hope that they might ward off disease, researchers at the University of Warwick and Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore concluded that well-nourished adults were wasting money on the pills.
Health news in pictures
Health news in pictures
1/19 Vaping backed as healthier nicotine alternative to cigarettes after latest study
Vaping has been given an emphatic thumbs up by health experts after the first long-term study of its effects in ex-smokers. After six months, people who switched from real to e-cigarettes had far fewer toxins and cancer-causing substances in their bodies than continual smokers, scientists found
2/19 Common method of cooking rice can leave traces of arsenic in food, scientists warn
Millions of people are putting themselves at risk by cooking their rice incorrectly, scientists have warned. Recent experiments show a common method of cooking rice — simply boiling it in a pan until the water has steamed out — can expose those who eat it to traces of the poison arsenic, which contaminates rice while it is growing as a result of industrial toxins and pesticides
3/19 Contraceptive gel that creates ‘reversible vasectomy’ shown to be effective in monkeys
An injectable contraceptive gel that acts as a ‘reversible vasectomy’ is a step closer to being offered to men following successful trials on monkeys. Vasalgel is injected into the vas deferens, the small duct between the testicles and the urethra. It has so far been found to prevent 100 per cent of conceptions
4/19 Shift work and heavy lifting may reduce women’s fertility, study finds
Women who work at night or do irregular shifts may experience a decline in fertility, a new study has found. Shift and night workers had fewer eggs capable of developing into healthy embryos than those who work regular daytime hours, according to researchers at Harvard University
5/19 Breakfast cereals targeted at children contain 'steadily high' sugar levels since 1992 despite producer claims
A major pressure group has issued a fresh warning about perilously high amounts of sugar in breakfast cereals, specifically those designed for children, and has said that levels have barely been cut at all in the last two and a half decades
6/19 Fight against pancreatic cancer takes ‘monumental leap forward’
Scientists have made a “monumental leap forward” in the treatment of pancreatic cancer after discovering using two drugs together dramatically improved patients’ chances of living more than five years after diagnosis.
7/19 Japanese government tells people to stop overworking
The Japanese government has announced measures to limit the amount of overtime employees can do – in an attempt to stop people literally working themselves to death. A fifth of Japan’s workforce are at risk of death by overwork, known as karoshi, as they work more than 80 hours of overtime each month, according to a government survey.
8/19 Over-cooked potatoes and burnt toast ‘could cause cancer’
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a public warning over the risks of acrylamide - a chemical compound that forms in some foods when they are cooked at high temperatures (above 120C).
9/19 Cervical cancer screening attendance hits 19 year low
Cervical screening tests are a vital method of preventing cancer through the detection and treatment of abnormalities in the cervix, but new research shows that the number of women using this service has dropped to a 19 year low.
10/19 High blood pressure may protect over 80s from dementia
The ConversationIt is well known that high blood pressure is a risk factor for dementia, so the results of a new study from the University of California, Irvine, are quite surprising. The researchers found that people who developed high blood pressure between the ages of 80-89 are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia) over the next three years than people of the same age with normal blood pressure.
11/19 Most child antidepressants are ineffective and can lead to suicidal thoughts
The majority of antidepressants are ineffective and may be unsafe, for children and teenager with major depression, experts have warned. In what is the most comprehensive comparison of 14 commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs to date, researchers found that only one brand was more effective at relieving symptoms of depression than a placebo. Another popular drug, venlafaxine, was shown increase the risk users engaging in suicidal thoughts and attempts at suicide
12/19 'Universal cancer vaccine’ breakthrough claimed by experts
Scientists have taken a “very positive step” towards creating a universal vaccine against cancer that makes the body’s immune system attack tumours as if they were a virus, experts have said. Writing in Nature, an international team of researchers described how they had taken pieces of cancer’s genetic RNA code, put them into tiny nanoparticles of fat and then injected the mixture into the bloodstreams of three patients in the advanced stages of the disease. The patients' immune systems responded by producing "killer" T-cells designed to attack cancer. The vaccine was also found to be effective in fighting “aggressively growing” tumours in mice, according to researchers, who were led by Professor Ugur Sahin from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany
13/19 Green tea could be used to treat brain issues caused by Down’s Syndrome
A compound found in green tea could improve the cognitive abilities of those with Down’s syndrome, a team of scientists has discovered. Researchers found epigallocatechin gallate – which is especially present in green tea but can also be found in white and black teas – combined with cognitive stimulation, improved visual memory and led to more adaptive behaviour. Dr Rafael de la Torre, who led the year-long clinical trial along with Dr Mara Dierrssen, said: “The results suggest that individuals who received treatment with the green tea compound, together with the cognitive stimulation protocol, had better scores in their cognitive capacities”
14/19 Taking antidepressants in pregnancy ‘could double the risk of autism in toddlers’
Taking antidepressants during pregnancy could almost double the risk of a child being diagnosed with autism in the first years of life, a major study of nearly 150,000 pregnancies has suggested. Researchers have found a link between women in the later stages of pregnancy who were prescribed one of the most common types of antidepressant drugs, and autism diagnosed in children under seven years of age
15/19 Warning over Calpol
Parents have been warned that giving children paracetamol-based medicines such as Calpol and Disprol too often could lead to serious health issues later in life. Leading paediatrician and professor of general paediatrics at University College London, Alastair Sutcliffe, said parents were overusing paracetamol to treat mild fevers. As a result, the risk of developing asthma, as well as kidney, heart and liver damage is heightened
16/19 Connections between brain cells destroyed in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Scientists have pinpointed how connections in the brain are destroyed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, in a study which it is hoped will help in the development of treatments for the debilitating condition. At the early stages of the development of Alzheimer’s disease the synapses – which connect the neurons in the brain – are destroyed, according to researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia. The synapses are vital for brain function, particularly learning and forming memories
17/19 A prosthetic hand that lets people actually feel through
The technology lets paralysed people feel actual sensations when touching objects — including light taps on the mechanical finger — and could be a huge breakthrough for prosthetics, according to its makers. The tool was used to let a 28-year-old man who has been paralysed for more than a decade. While prosthetics have previously been able to be controlled directly from the brain, it is the first time that signals have been successfully sent the other way
18/19 Aspirin could help boost therapies that fight cancer
The latest therapies that fight cancer could work better when combined with aspirin, research has suggested. Scientists from the Francis Crick Institute in London say the anti-inflammatory pain killer suppresses a cancer molecule that allows tumours to evade the body’s immune defences. Laboratory tests have shown that skin, breast and bowel cancer cells often generate large amounts of this molecule, called prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). But Aspirin is one of a family of drugs that sends messages to the brain to block production of PGE2 and this means cancer cells can be attacked by the body’s natural defences
19/19 Potatoes reduce risk of stomach cancer
Scientists have found people who eat large amounts of white vegetables were a third less likely to contract stomach cancer. The study, undertaken by Chinese scientists at Zhejiang University, found eating cauliflower, potatoes and onions reduces the chance of contracting stomach cancer but that beer, spirits, salt and preserved foods increased a person’s risk of the cancer
The experts also didn’t mince words when it came to the supplement industry, which it said made £650million annually when they study was conducted at the expense of a public which was reacting to false anxieties about their health.
“These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough,” the experts concluded in the report.
Edgar Miller from the John Hopkins school of Medicine said at the time: “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.”
Other studies have since emerged about the use and possible harmful effects of supplements including antioxidants – which may increase the risk of cancer spreading. Vitamins, meanwhile, can increase the rise of cancer and heart disease according a study compiling research from over a decade, The Guardian reported.
The amount which was spent on supplements in the UK in 2013
However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which provides national guidance on health and social care, said that certain people who are at risk of deficiencies should consider taking supplements.
Pregnant women, for example, should take vitamin D until they stop breast-feeding, as well as folic acid up until the twelfth week of pregnancy to regulate the levels of calcium and phosphate in their bodies to prevent their bones from becoming soft.
Folic acid is understood to prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida. And while eating foods rich in the substances - such as green leafy vegetables and brown rice - are beneficial, it is not possible to get the recommended amount from these alone.
Children aged between six months and five-years-old can meanwhile benefit from taking vitamins A,C and D, particularly if they are fussy eaters.
Those who are not exposed to the sun – such as those who are housebound or cover their skin outdoors – are also advised to take Vitamin D.
With cloudless skies and blazing sunshine a rarity in the UK, those who live here are among those who may need Vitamin D, prompting the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) to conclude in a recent draft report that all adults require 400 IU (10 micrograms) of the substance per day.
"It would be hard to get that [enough vitamin D] from diet and sunshine alone in the UK winter and spring," says Dr Adrian R Martineau of Queen Mary, University of London.
"So if their final report sticks with this recommendation, then healthy adults will either need to take a vitamin D supplement to meet this target, or consume foods fortified with vitamin D – of which there are relatively few in the UK."
He added that alternatives, such as taking a sunny holiday or eating oily fish every day, are not always safe or convenient.
Addressing suggestions that supplements can be harmful, he went on: "In general, fat-soluble vitamins, A and D in particular, have greater potential to cause toxicity than water-soluble for example Vitamin C."
"But at the levels given in micronutrient supplements, there is no significant risk of harm. Pregnant women should avoid taking too much vitamin A, however."
Dr Oyinlola Oyebode, Associate Professor in Public Health at Warwick Medical School, holds a similar view to Dr Martineau, and stressed the importance of eating healthily.
"I wouldn’t say it is a fact that vitamin supplements are a 'total waste of money' since a Cochrane review has found that regular vitamin C supplementation reduces the duration of common cold, but my personal view is that it is better to get vitamin C from a diet rich in fruit and vegetables."
"I think it is important to aim for a healthy diet, full of fruit and vegetables, rather than consider vitamin supplements a short-cut to good health."Reuse content