Food Law News - UK - 2003
FSA News Release (2003/0371), 8 May 2003
SUPPLEMENTS - New FSA advice on safety of high doses of vitamins and minerals
The Food Standards Agency today issued new advice on some vitamins and minerals
that could have possible harmful effects if taken in too high a dose.
The FSA is advising consumers on what levels of supplements are unlikely to
cause any harmful effects. The advice follows the publication of the report
of the Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals (EVM), which makes recommendations
on 31 vitamins and minerals.
The EVM has assessed the available evidence on safety, in response to concern
over possible risks of taking high doses of vitamins and minerals. Current intakes
of most vitamins and minerals are not thought to be harmful. However, the Food
Standards Agency has said one substance may have the potential to cause cancer
and has consulted on a proposal to ban its use; six substances may have irreversible
effects if taken in large amounts over long periods of time; and three substances
may have short-term harmful effects, which would disappear if people stopped
taking the supplement.
In more detail:
- Chromium in the form of chromium picolinate may have the potential to cause
cancer; consumers are advised not to take chromium in this form. The FSA has
consulted on a proposal to ban its use in the manufacture of food supplements.
Having 10mg/day or less in total of chromium in other forms is unlikely to
cause any harm.
- Levels of vitamin C above 1000mg/day could cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Similarly, high intakes of calcium (above 1500mg/day) and iron (above 17mg/day)
may result in similar symptoms in some people. These symptoms should disappear
once people stop taking the supplements.
- There are some substances that may have irreversible harmful effects if
taken for long periods at the highest supplemental doses. These include beta-carotene
(especially for smokers and those exposed to asbestos), nicotinic acid, zinc,
manganese (especially for older people) and phosphorus.
- Current advice on vitamin B6 is being re-emphasised. The Agency advises
against taking more than 10mg/day of vitamin B6 from dietary supplements unless
acting on medical advice. High intakes taken over a long period of time can
lead to a loss of feeling in the arms and legs.
Advice is also being given on biotin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, riboflavin,
niacin, thiamin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, boron, cobalt,
copper, iodine, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, tin, magnesium, potassium, and
Sir John Krebs, Chair of the Food Standards Agency, said:
'While in most cases you can get all the nutrients you need from a balanced
diet, many people choose to take supplements. But taking some high dose supplements
over a long period of time could be harmful. We are using an extremely thorough
independent expert review of the scientific evidence on the safety of vitamins
and minerals as the basis for new advice to help consumers make informed choices.
In addition, the Board of the Food Standards Agency will be considering what
further action we would wish the supplements industry to take.'
The FSA Board will today receive a report recommending voluntary action by
the supplements industry to reduce the dose and/or provide label warnings for
some high dose food supplements.
Agency advice on vitamins and minerals is available on the FSA website.
The following notes are included:
- The Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals carried out a detailed nutritional
and toxicological review of 34 vitamins and minerals, with particular reference
to safety in long-term use. Safe upper levels were suggested for eight of
them, guidance suggested for 23, and statements were issued for three minerals.
Guidance was given where there was not enough evidence to suggest a safe upper
level for a particular vitamin or mineral. Guidance and safe upper levels
were set for total intake from food, supplements, or a combination of the
two. The EVM is an independent group made up of 11 members from the medical
and scientific community, one lay member, and four observers representing
consumer organisations, the health and food industries, and alternative medicine
- Supplements are recommended for certain groups of people:
- Women of child bearing age and pregnant women (until the 12th week of
pregnancy) should take a daily dietary supplement of 0.4mg folic acid and
eat plenty of folate-rich foods in order to reduce the risk of neural tube
defects in their babies.
- Some women with high menstrual blood losses may need to take iron supplements,
as advised by their GP.
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should take supplements containing
10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D per day. Some older people may need
to consider taking vitamin D as advised by their GP.
- Pregnant women, or women who are thinking of becoming pregnant, should
not take supplements of vitamin A, except on the advice of their GP. This
is because there is an association between very high levels of retinol (a
source of vitamin A) consumption during pregnancy and the incidence of some
birth defects. As an additional precaution, pregnant women should not eat
liver or liver products as these are a very rich source of retinol.
- From the age of six months to two years (or five if they are not eating
a wide enough range of foods), most young children will benefit from vitamin
drops (A, C, and D). These are available free of charge from health clinics
for children under five years of age in families receiving Income Support
or an income-based Job Seekers' Allowance.
- A varied and balanced diet, which includes plenty of fruit, vegetables,
and starchy foods, and moderate amounts of dairy products, meat, fish, and
meat alternatives will provide all the nutrients that most people need without
having to take supplements.
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