Vitamin pills are a waste of money, offer no health benefits and could be harmful - study

Evidence from the study suggested that 'supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults...has no clear benefit and might even be harmful'

Vitamin pills are a waste of money, usually offer no health benefits and could even be harmful, a group of leading scientists has said.

A study of nearly 500,000 people, carried out by academics from the University of Warwick and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA, has delivered a damning verdict on the claims made by the vitamin supplement industry.

Evidence from the study suggested that "supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults...has no clear benefit and might even be harmful", despite one in three Britons taking vitamins or mineral pills.

According to The Times, scientists involved in the study, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded that companies selling supplements were fuelling false health anxieties to offer unnecessary cures. The industry in the UK is thought to be worth more than £650 million annually.

Researchers declared 'case closed' on the vitamin and mineral pills after making their conclusion based on the study of half-a-million people along with three separate research papers.

Evidence from the study suggested that Evidence from the study suggested that "supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults...has no clear benefit and might even be harmful", despite one in three Britons taking vitamins or mineral pills.  

One of the research papers involved the retrospective study of 24 previous trials. In total 450,000 people were involved in the trials and the paper concluded that there was 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, writing: "These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough."

The scientists argued that the average Western diet is sufficient to provide the necessary 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."

Dr 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 taking folic acid to help them conceive 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".

In July 2011 the Advertising Standards Agency criticised Vitabiotics Ltd for an advert headlined: 'Advanced Nutrients For The Brain'.

They ruled that the implied claims that "recent research had shown that B vitamins could help maintain brain function and performance' were not substantiated and were "misleading".

Additional reporting from the Press Association.

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