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Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and Minerals - Whats all the fuss?


A strange thing happened in the Pharmacy the other day. One of our customers came in to ask if the calcium tablets she was getting would interfere with the (7!) individual vitamin/mineral supplements she was advised to buy from the local health food chain store. On further comment, it was divulged that the patient had received a printout of which vitamins, minerals and enzymes she may lack, from a "machine the homeopath (1 yr, 3 hrs per week training) had attached to her arm". Amazing machine that, it can tell so much from mere skin contact.

Anyhow, the strange thing is, the Homoeopath in question also had been in, was looking quite unwell, and was asking advice relating to what vitamins and minerals to take!! It would be ironic, even amusing, if it wasn't so risky to public health! The fact is for whatever reason, whether giving pseudo-medical advice is a real source of income or a pastime that whiles away the hours, the truth remains that the whole area of complementary medicine and the giving of advice on Herbal/Homoeopathy/Nutrition is being abused at an horrendous rate. Our local and European politicians seem happy with the fact that this industry is "self-regulatory" in other words each provider of product or service sets its own (high?) standards.

 

David Jordan (Pharmacist, Well+Good outlet) tipped me off on an article that appeared in BMJ.com on May 8th, describing how 1546 products, constituting 70% of Australia's nutritional products (made by Pan Pharmaceuticals) had been recalled by the Government due to "deliberate manipulation and systematic alteration of quality control data", or in layman's terms - lying and cheating. This news was massive, and resonated far beyond Australia, because the company exports to the UK, Ireland, US, Japan and Hong Kong among others. Because these types of products often fall under "foodstuffs" many can be repackaged, relabeled and then called "guaranteed Irish" or British or whatever, thereby seriously reducing the ability to recall them. Even more sinister is the fact the company was also a generic pharmaceutical company! One product, a travel sickness product varied in Hyoscine content from ZERO to 700% of the quoted amount, resulting in 87 hospital admissions and 19 "life-threatening episodes".

The Irish Medicines Board has been aware of this potential risk for years, and unlike many other European Governments has taken a very fair but very firm opinion on the marketing of nutritional products with "medicinal" claims. (aka "nutriceuticals"). In the meantime, a British group of scientists, under the alliance FSA or Food Standards Agency, a division of the Food Safety Authority (www.foodstandards.co.uk) has evaluated all vitamins and minerals in food, quoting as was recommended by the European Parliament last year MAXIMUM daily amounts for each component. (Originally MINIMA were suggested too, but the industry successfully lobbied against minimum quantities being needed, so they can put as little as they like into something and still claim "with added vitamin X".)

 

A counter-lobbying group representing manufacturers of products like Solgar (actually a division of Whitehall labs) multivitamins, many of which are in "hyper-dose or mega-dose" forms are enraged by some of the limits set. In some I feel they have a point. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) set by the FSA for Niacin (AKA Nicotinamide) vitaminB3 is 17mg. The RDA is 18mg! They fear it may cause "facial flushing" above this dose, but as the EVA author writes "so does sex, and it's not bad for you". The RDA recommended for Pyridoxine, or B6 is 10mg, but patients regularly use up to 50mg twice daily, with no ill effects. Here the question is whether they are using the B6 as a short-term relief of a neurosis/neuralgia(eg during PMT) or a more prolonged taking, whereupon the 10mg daily is a more advisable dose limit.

The lobby document goes on to argue that the trial in the late 80's examining the cancer-preventative possibilities of Beta Carotene (a pro-vitamin of vitamin A group) may have shown Beta Carotene to cause more cancer, but this was only because it was a "manufactured form of the vitamin". The natural form allegedly does not cause this anomaly. I'd like to see that in a clinical trial, and how do you assay "natural" as opposed to "synthetic" Beta Carotene.

It's long been known that the Oil-soluble vitamins are potentially toxic to the liver particularly, and the symptoms of overdose are similar to those of under dose, but what is now emerging is the WATER-soluble vitamins too may not be that safe if used continually or in excess. It seems were back to that most difficult of methods of obtaining vitamins: fresh fruit, vegetables, cereals and sunshine! It doesn't bear thinking about, does it?