Mother's little helpers

is it worth it?; Does popping a groovier brand of vitamin mean the difference between boom and slump?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
YOU'VE probably seen those guilt-inducing adverts for shiny gold bottles of Solgar vitamins, telling you that they know they're a bit more expensive, but hey, its your health, and you don't want to compromise that, do you? A month's worth of their basic multivitamin VM75 costs pounds 6.99, and the superpowered version, the scarily-named VM2000, will set you back pounds 13.25 for a month. Compared to the cheaper brands, which retail at around the pounds 3 mark for a month's supply, this seems like rather a lot.

Many nutritionists consider that it's worth paying that bit more. Rachel Moffat, a nutrition advisor working in the pharmacy at Selfridges in London, explains that more time and effort will have been spent sourcing the raw materials; dosages may be higher; and additional elements to aid absorption are included. Behar Kahvedjioglou runs a consultancy called Health Matters. He has spent several years comparing the effects of different food supplements on his clients, and has come to the conclusion that a lot of products "end up hitting the porcelain pan". If you don't take a supplement that is "food state" - ie as close as possible to the organic structure of food itself, so that your body recognises it as food - not all of its goodness will be absorbed.

A spokeswoman for Boots claims that, since everyone must conform to the same rigorous safety standards, the source of the raw materials is not of the ultimate importance. Companies using 100 per cent natural products are obviously going to have greater costs to meet and will therefore charge more (Boots use a mixture of natural and synthetic ingredients). For the "average person" interested in maintaining general health in the face of sometimes erratic eating habits, she said that cheaper vitamin products are quite enough. It is not as if they don't provide any vitamins at all. The implication is that the higher dosage, more effectively absorbed and generally groovier products are for people who wish to take a much closer interest in how they maintain the temple that is their body.

There is yet another vitamin viewpoint currently at large, though, which suggests that they are not necessary for someone eating a healthy diet, and that too much may even be detrimental. The government is currently embroiled in a controversy over the safe level for vitamin B6, whilst it was revealed this week that there may be a link between excessive betacarotene (part of vitamin A) consumption and cancer. Many doctors think vitamins are a complete waste of money unless they are taken for a specific reason. Naturopaths disagree, arguing that the "mainstream" medical profession is in thrall to the pharmaceutical companies who might have much to lose if large numbers of people began taking vitamins as a preventative measure.

Do they improve your health? Those in favour of vitamins have built up a body of evidence that suggests they do. But manufacturers of food supplements cannot make specific "clinically proven" claims for their products. To do so would be to make them a medicine, requiring product licensing which would restrict their use to limited applications. Ultimately, it seems that by forking out a bit more, you are certainly going to get more vitamin for your money - but quite how much you need it remains a matter of opinion.

Solgar vitamins are available from health food stores