"Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food." General chat about health supplements benefits in the Sian's Plan HQ? Or the wise words of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates who died 370 BC?
I was pretty surprised when I read that this report prepared by the consumer group Which? that highlighted that some supplement manufacturers are making misleading claims on their products. A quick summary of the report is:
- The UK food supplements industry is worth £385 million a year.
- Over the past five years, all health claims made on products such as food, drink and supplements have had to be submitted to the EU's European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
- Of 44,000 claims made, only 248 have been approved.
- EFSA have rejected all claims stating that probiotics improve digestion and that glucosamine supplements improve joint health.
- Supplements such as Boots Digestion Support Plus and Seven Seas Jointcare Active do not appear to provide any health benefits.
Money in the Bin?
With glucosamine supplements costing up to £1 a day and a twelve pack of Actimel costing £3.85, are we literally just throwing this money in the bin?
The British government have stated that that most people should just eat a balanced and varied diet to get the vitamins they need and the only people who need to take a supplement (unless it's been prescribed by a doctor) should be women trying to conceive and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, children between six months and five years, and the over 65s.
So why then are a third of adults regularly taking food supplements?
'Do you take food supplements' I asked one of the Biggest One's friends the other day (all in the name of research). 'Mmmm... yeah, from time to time' he said. 'And why is that?' 'Just to be sure' he responded.
Just to be sure? What does that even mean? It means that we think taking health and food supplements will improve our health, but the above report would suggest otherwise.
I am not exactly blameless myself - I have always taken cod liver oil. And if I am truthful with you (and sure am I not always truthful to you), I don't know why. Yes, I have read that it helps bones and joints, but I never probed it further that. And given that I already use food as my medicine and include lots of oily fish in my balanced diet, is there any need to take more? Seemingly not without a prescription from my doctor.
So it seems that it's certainly helping burn a hole in our pockets, but are there any ill effects in taking food supplements?
Interestingly enough, the UK legislative authority for food supplements moved from the Food Standards Agency to the Department Health on 1 October 2010, highlighting that it is no longer a mere food issue, it requires regulation as a health matter.
Too much of anything can be a bad thing. We are all set recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland outlines some examples of excessive use of food supplements.
Vitamin B6 - High intakes can cause bone pain, muscle weakness, numbness or other symptoms of nerve disorder.
Vitamin C - High intakes can cause diarrhoea and can cause urinary tract infections.
Vitamin D - Kidney Damage and Bone Deformity
Calcium - High levels can result in high blood calcium levels, alkalosis and kidney impairment.
The American musician Katy Perry doesn't seem to think so, as she tweeted pictures of the hundreds of vitamins and health supplements she takes. Seems a shame when she is acting as a role model for many young people.
But for you, before you pick up that plastic bottle, think as to whether 100 times the recommended daily amount of a vitamin is great or good for your body.
In my research on the topic, I saw one reader saying that he used cheap multivitamins because he was on low income and couldn't afford a balanced healthy diet and hence I am not advocating a complete ban. There are certainly times when you are run down or sick where you need an extra kick. But maybe every now and again, rather than reaching for the bowl of pasta, with a side of Berocca, let food be your medicine and try out some of these natural superfoods and health bouncers.
1) Manuka honey
2) Hot ginger and lemon tea
3) Oily cold water fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel
4) Acai berries
8) Dairy products (in moderation)
10) Nuts e.g. walnuts