Level of Food Supplement Use Questioned
Only Vitamin D and folic acid recommended for certain groups
10th November 2022. New research¹ launched today by safefood has revealed that almost half of Irish adults (48%) are taking a food supplement with the majority (60%) taking Vitamin D. Other popular options are multivitamins and minerals (41%) and vitamin C (34%), with almost half of parents in the survey (47%) reported giving supplements to their children. Current guidelines advise that for healthy individuals, only two supplements are recommended; vitamin D for under 5s and over 65s, and folic acid for people who could become pregnant.
Introducing the research, Dr Aileen Mc Gloin, Director of Nutrition with safefood said “From the research it would appear that many people are spending money on supplements they likely don’t need. While it’s encouraging that Vitamin D is the most commonly consumed supplement, other multivitamins and mineral options appear to be consumed unnecessarily. We would advise people to discuss their diet with a trusted healthcare professional first before you spend money on other supplements.”
The research, which was undertaken by Ulster University suggests that food supplement use may be on the increase among the general adult population. When asked why they purchased, “generally supporting the immune system” was one of the main perceived advantages that emerged from focus groups with participants for example “preventing colds and flu”. Those most likely to use food supplements were women and those from a higher socioeconomic status. They believed that taking supplements would be beneficial to their health, good for them, or that it would be wise to do so. Parents who were supplement users were more than twice as likely to give their child a food supplement than parents who were not food supplement users.
Joana De Silva, Chief Specialist in Nutrition with safefood added “We know that a healthy balanced diet is the best way to support good health. Excess water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C for example can’t be used and will be eliminated from the body, so in reality they’re a waste of money. It would be much better for overall health if people were making changes to what they eat rather than taking extra tablets. However, if you have a specific medical condition or need to restrict certain foods, then you may need to take supplements. Our advice would be to discuss this with your doctor or healthcare professional.”
1 Download the report: “Food Supplements: exploring our reasons for taking them”.
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¹ “Food supplements: Exploring our reasons for taking them;” safefood & Ulster University April 2021.
Public Health Recommendations for Ireland – Vitamin D
- A vitamin D supplement is recommended for all people aged over 65 throughout the year.
- A vitamin D supplement for all babies up to 1 year old is recommended all year round.
- A vitamin D supplement for children from 1 to 5 years is recommended during the winter months – from Halloween to St Patrick’s day.
The Joint Committee on Health published a “Report on addressing Vitamin D deficiency as a public health measure in Ireland” in April 2021 which recommends changes to the current policy - Oireachtas Health Committee launches report on addressing Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland – 7 Apr 2021, 11.00 – Houses of the Oireachtas
The research included an audit of the information reported in newsletters produced from the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety’s Nutrivigilance scheme in France. Each newsletter reported the clinical cases of adverse events linked to food supplements, novel foods, fortified foods, and energy drinks. Information was collated for all cases: the product name or description, main active ingredients, age, or age range of case (or cases), the specific adverse event, causality (the relationship between cause and effect – whether it is less likely, possible, likely, or very likely that something was the cause of the adverse event) and the number of cases.
This aspect of the report can contribute to the Pilot nutrivigilance system for adverse toxicological events (fsai.ie) being undertaken in Ireland.