The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vitamin alert in diabetes watch

Alarmed at the rising incidence of toxic effects among diabetics, caused by a high intake of vitamins and trace elements like selenium and chromium, city-based endocrinologists have warned general practitioners and patients against the rampant use of these substances.

The Calcutta branch of the Diabetic Association of India (DAI) has taken the lead in creating awareness on harmful side-effects of indiscriminate vitamins consumption. “We are asking patients to opt for a balanced diet of salads, vegetables and fruits, instead of a cocktail of drugs, which is causing symptoms like bony overgrowth, abnormal hair loss, skin infections and anxiety,” said endocrinologist Subhankar Chowdhury, general secretary of DAI’s city branch.

Chowdhury, head of the endocrinology department at SSKM Hospital, said: “Overuse of vitamins and trace elements can have toxic effects on patients and there is no concrete evidence that vitamin supplements help control blood sugar levels.”

Experts say patients with controlled diabetes should not be prescribed vitamins E and C, contrary to normal practice among most city doctors treating diabetics. Vitamins and trace elements are usually prescribed as insulin-stimulant, cardio-protective and stroke-preventive substances.

“Studies have shown that only water-soluble vitamins, like B-complex, don’t have an adverse effect even if taken in high doses, since the excess amount passes out through urine. However, vitamins E, C and A, consumed in large quantities by ‘stable’ diabetics, cause cell damage and other side-effects,” Chowdhury observed.

In order to drive home the point, DAI has decided to conduct training camps for general practitioners, where they will be explained, among other issues, the role of vitamins and how its benefits are shrouded in mystery. The decision to train doctors on ‘vitamin abuse’ was taken after complaints ranging from acute stress and abnormal hair loss to extra bone growth and skin rashes, have been on the rise.

“I have received cases where general practitioners deliberately prescribe a cocktail of vitamin supplements, despite the patients maintaining a controlled blood glucose level,” said another endocrinologist.

Prabir Kundu, lecturer in the department of nutrition and metabolic diseases, School of Tropical Medicine (STM), said several patients were given vitamins during experiments, which failed to substantiate their benefits to diabetics.

He added that even the dosage of elements like chromium, known to increase tissue sensitivity to insulin, should be adequately monitored. Selenium, on the other hand, is believed to protect against cell damage. “A balanced, low-calorie diet is much more helpful for a diabetic than a cocktail of vitamin supplements,” said Kundu.

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