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Vitamin tablets cause more harm than good

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Vitamin tablets 'may do more harm than good'

09:26am 3rd August 2006

Vitamin supplements do not work and may do more harm than good, experts have warned.

The tablets taken by millions of health-conscious Britons each day do nothing to stave off illness, they said.

In fact, Vitamins C and E - compounds known as anti-oxidants - may actually cause some illnesses.

While vitamins may ward off disease in the test-tube, they do little to protect in everyday life, this week's New Scientist reports.

The magazine says: 'Cranberry capsules. Effervescent vitamin C. Pomegranate concentrate. Beta carotene. Selenium. Grape seed extract. High-dose vitamin E. Pine bark extract. Bee spit.

'You name it, if it's an anti-oxidant, we'll swallow it by the bucket-load. We have become anti-oxidant devotees. But are they doing us any good?

'Evidence gathered over the last few years shows that, at best, antioxidant supplements do little or nothing to benefit our health.

'True, they knock the wind out of free-radicals in a test tube. But once inside the human body, they seem strangely powerless.

'Many scientists are concluding they are a waste of time and money. At worst they could be harmful.'

The report follows a warning from American scientists that multivitamins could be of little benefit and there is danger of overdosing on some. Anti-oxidants, which occur naturally in plants, mop up free-radicals - toxins produced by the body that damage cells and are linked to a host of illnesses.

Their supposed benefits are so great that much of the 300million spent by Britons on vitamin and mineral pills each year goes on anti-oxidants.

While taking the compounds naturally in fruit and vegetables may be beneficial, pills and other supplements appear to do little good.

One of the most high-profile offenders is vitamin E.

It became popular in the early 1990s, when two studies involving more than 127,000 participants found those with a diet high in the vitamin were at less risk of heart attacks and strokes.

However, most studies since then have failed to make the link. One concluded that the vitamin increased the risk of heart failure.

And, while it does play a role in keeping the nervous system healthy, it appears to do little to prevent cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Vitamin C is also controversial, with a recent American study suggesting it may speed up atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, in diabetics.

Biochemist Barry Halliwell, an expert in anti-oxidants at the National University of Singapore, said supplements simply cannot mimic the effects of a healthy diet.

'Stick to flavonoid-rich foods, red wine in moderation, tea, fruits and vegetables,' he said.

'Don't start taking high-dose supplements or heavily-fortified foods until we know more.'

The industry-backed Health Supplements Information Service accused New Scientist of being selective in the research it had chosen to illustrate its point.

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Vitamin tablets cause more harm than good

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