The role of vitamins - essential or a waste of time?

Related tags Nutrition Vitamin

British organisation the Health Supplement Information Service
counters recent arguments negating the benefits of vitamins. It
argues that the modern diet provides insufficient amounts of
nutrients for large numbers of the population.

Following yesterday​'s news that a senior figure in the British medical world has added his support to the views that vitamins are not always effective, a UK information body, the Health Supplement Information Service (HSIS), has responded with a statement which stresses the positive effects of vitamins.

"Many recent derogatory statements about vitamins have been based on the assumption that people in western countries have a balanced, adequate diet. This is an incorrect assumption and is not the case. In fact, there are many groups in affluent societies, including our own, who eat a poorly balanced diet despite the huge choice open to them,"​ said Dr Ann Walker of HSIS.

"Even for those who do eat healthily it can be difficult to achieve target intakes of micronutrients when food consumption is restricted for weight control purposes,"​ she added.

The British organisation pointed to a report in the 19 June issue of The Journal Of American Medical Association​ where authors concluded that "because low vitamin intake has been linked to a host of illnesses, everybody, regardless of age or health status should take a daily multivitamin"​.

HSIS said that inadequate intakes of vitamins and minerals are common among large groups of the general population. It cited the JAMA report which pointed to certain groups, especially the elderly, who had sub-optimal intakes of a range of nutrients. With the elderly, low levels of folic acid, along with low levels of vitamin B6 and B12, may pose a risk of cardiovascular disease, and even colon cancer.

The organisation also highlighted evidence from the UK, such as a dietary survey showing how young children who are mildly deficient in zinc can suffer from poor wound healing and greater susceptibility to infection (The Lancet​ 2000;355:2008-2009, 2021-2026).

Other groups at risk are adolescent girls who often have exceptionally low intakes of calcium, which may be associated with osteoporosis in later life and dieting women who suffer from deficiencies of a broad spectrum of micronutrients.

"Although few people in the UK suffer overt pathological disorders, many groups of people in society survive at below target intakes of essential nutrients. This no doubt predisposes them to higher risks of a whole range of illnesses and age-related conditions,"​ said Walker.

She added: "The government's own survey figures consistently show that modern diet provides less than target levels of folic acid, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium and B vitamins for many vulnerable groups in society, particularly women who have lower energy requirements than men."

The HSIS stressed that vitamins and antioxidants play a general preventative role with health. While they are not intended to be used for the treatment of diseases, considerable research has shown that vitamins and minerals have positive benefits when used in conjunction with a healthy diet and other therapeutic agents, said the organisation.

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