I have received numerous queries following a recent report from the Foods Standard Agency stating that certain vitamin and mineral supplements may pose health risks.

For example, they caution that beta carotene supplements ( normally extracted from orange, red and green vegetables and fruits) may cause lung cancer. What they don’t tell you, is this recommendation is based on one trial, in which ageing smokers, with poor diets, some of whom already had cancer, were given a synthetic form of beta carotene derived from petroleum, and surprise – surprise their health did not improve. And vitamin C supplements in excess of 1 gram they warn, may cause loose bowels. So can a large bowl of prunes or figs. Vitamin C is essential to life and is needed for over 40 functions – making healthy bones, cartilage and skin, for healthy eyes, tissue repair, immune function and so on.

The FSA have ignored the fact that we are all unique and nutrient requirements vary depending upon our age, height, weight and current health. In fact research shows that most Aids patients need and utilise 3000 mg of vitamin C daily and yet the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) is only 60mg – you would need to eat 10 apples, 3 kiwi fruits or two large oranges to ingest this amount. They also say that taking more than 10mg of vitamin B6 daily could causes loss of feeling in your arms and legs. This is completely untrue. In fact more than 3 million women a day take 100mg of B6 to ease their symptoms of PMS which has been proven to be a perfectly safe and effective daily intake. Their report also recommends that we need no more than the RDA of each nutrient, inferring that the RDA is the only safe level . This is not true.

Our current RDA’s were set in 1941 by American doctors, to protect troops with limited rations from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Sixty years ago our foods contained more nutrients, but due to intensive farming and overuse of pesticides, nutrient levels have dropped. Calcium levels in broccoli have dropped by as much as 75%, magnesium levels in carrots have fallen by similar amounts. Store an orange for a week and it’s vitamin C content is halved. However, as fresh, locally grown, organic foods contain more nutrients, one solution is to eat the government’s recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily.

Unfortunately only 13% of men and 15% of women manage this intake and on many days even I struggle to meet this target. Hence why I suggest you continue to take supplements – which should not be used in place of a healthy, balanced diet – but as a way to boost your nutrient intake.