London, May 8: Vitamin and mineral supplements could cause more harm than good, the Food Standards Agency will say today. It is calling for one supplement to be banned and says that six other substances could damage health irreversibly.
The warning is issued as the expert group on vitamins and minerals reports that several of the most popular supplements could have long-term health implications.
The investigation by the group, independent scientists and medics who advise the government, is the most comprehensive review to be conducted of supplements on sale and the first to recommend safe limits on vitamin and mineral intake.
It suggests that the 10 million Britons who spend £175 million a year on supplements waste their money and risk damaging their health if they do not adhere to strict guidelines and safe upper levels on 34 vitamins and minerals. In particular, chromium picolinate, a supplement widely available and popular with dieters, body builders, health fanatics and diabetics, could cause cancers of the upper respiratory tract, lung and stomach, it says.
Several common vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins C, B3 , beta-carotene, iron and zinc could damage health, in some cases irreversibly. Vitamin C, the biggest selling supplement, can trigger stomach problems such as diarrhoea and flatulence and can make digesive problems worse. It advises that no more than 1000 mg a day of vitamin C should be taken. More than 10 mg a day of vitamin B6 can cause an irreversible loss of feeling in the arms and legs, known as peripheral neuropathy, it says, but B6 supplements most commonly contained 80mg in a single tablet or capsule - eight times the safe upper level.
The agency is consulting on a proposal to ban the use and sale of chromium picolinate, which many thousands of Britons are thought to take.
A spokesman said it was hoped the health supplement industry would voluntarily withdraw chromium picolinate products. "But we will also look at the scope for legislation if the industry does not withdraw voluntarily," she said.
The supplements industry claimed that the report confirmed its own voluntary safe upper limits.
The industry-funded Health Supplements Information Service said that daily multivitamins and single nutrients remained safe to take, provided the products were formulated to 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowance.
Dr Ann Walker, an HSIS adviser, said: "These recommendations are not relevant to short-term use. We are looking closely at them to ensure the public may be educated appropriately."