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The Good News About Vitamins

Vitamins have been big news as the latest wave of European bureaucracy shifts from bananas and crisps to vitamins. Judging from recent news coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that vitamins are no longer safe or legal.

The truth is vitamins are as wonderful as ever, and just as necessary.

Some background to the headlines… In order to allow the free sale of vitamins across the European Community, Brussels created the Food Supplements Directive (FSD). Initially, this Directive was widely welcomed, as vitamins and minerals are prescription-only in some EU countries. This new European law opened up these markets to British supplement companies, and was seen as a real opportunity for trade. However, as the detail emerged, those who understood Brussels-speak became increasingly nervous.

The authorities had drawn up a list of allowed nutrients, the ‘Positive List’. When first compiled, this list missed off some vitally important vitamins and minerals. Strangely, it also contained a number of forms of minerals that are commonly used in cleaning materials, but deadly if ingested – so much for the ‘experts’ in Brussels! Fortunately, genuine nutritional experts have since persuaded the authorities to add a large number of nutrients to this list. So the vast majority of vitamins and minerals are still available in your local health food shop. At least, they are for now.

There is a danger that the Positive List could be slashed again if legislators have a change of heart, or if pressure comes from a major player in the supplement industry, such as the United States. Plus in the next 12 months, Brussels will be deciding how much of each nutrient should be allowed. This may well generate another wave of headlines.

Will 60mg be the limit for vitamin C? That’s barely what you might get from a single orange and not enough for optimum nutrition. Will vitamin B6 be reduced to 10mg per capsule? If so, this will spell disaster for the millions of women who take B6 to relieve PMS.

You may ask if this European Directive has been written for safety reasons; are vitamins and minerals dangerous chemicals that must be controlled by Europe? The answer is a resounding NO.

Vitamins and minerals are incredibly safe. According to a report compiled by New Zealand’s National Nutritional Foods Association, statistically you are less likely to die from taking any kind of food supplement than from a bee sting, lightning or animal bite. In fact, you are considerably more at risk from properly prescribed and administered orthodox medication from your doctor. Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) account for 1 in 16 hospital admissions in the UK, and the British Medical Journal has stated that nationally ADRs could be responsible for 10,000 deaths per year.

Vitamins and minerals have an exemplary safety record. Not only are they safe, they make an important contribution to good health. The UK government has identified the following groups of people as being at risk from low vitamin and mineral intakes: highly active people, menstruating women, vegetarians, vegans, the over 50s, slimmers, pre-conceptual, pregnant and breast-feeding women, smokers, drinkers and faddy eaters. Which makes up roughly everyone – who doesn’t need extra vitamins?

No-one would argue that vitamin and mineral supplements replace the need for a good well-balanced diet, but who manages to eat well every single day? These products are called food ‘supplements’ for a reason – they supplement a good diet and healthy lifestyle.

Vitamin and mineral supplements offer a convenient method of insuring your optimum intake of essential nutrients everyday. For some people, higher doses than can be obtained easily from foods are an absolute necessity. Chronic conditions such as stress, joint pain, sleeplessness, mood swings, PMS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel and so on, are often, once diagnosed, better treated by nutritional methods than by the long-term use of pharmaceutical drugs with their attendant side-effects.

We are already well-protected from ‘rogue’ vitamin companies through food safety legislation, the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards. The FSD creates yet another layer of bureaucracy, which will push up prices and could potentially put health food stores and smaller supplement manufacturers out of business. Health food stores have a crucial role on the High Street. They are one of the few places you can go for helpful advice from people who have a genuine passion for this specialist subject. Larger retailers simply do not have the knowledge or the commitment to hold customers by the hand and take the time to give a holistic service. You’re a lot less likely to get advice on supplements from the assistant at a supermarket than from the lady at your local independent health food shop.

If this Directive succeeds in making all vitamin products identical low potency clones sold through mass-market outlets, then we all may as well eat the cardboard boxes they are packaged in, they will have so little nutritional value.

In the past few years, there has been considerable lobbying to avert the FSD; a million-strong petition together with a letter signed by 300 scientists and doctors was handed in at Downing Street, and numerous Parliamentary Questions and Motions have been tabled – all without success.

A formal complaint went up to the European Court of Justice, and hopes were raised in April when the Attorney General severely criticised the FSD as being “as clear as a black box”, “infringes the principle of proportionality” and is therefore “invalid under EU law.” However, on July 12th, the ECJ surprised everyone and endorsed the FSD and made it law from August 1st.

Tony Blair said in May that the FSD rules are “wholly out of proportion to the risks run”, but this was clearly too-little too-late, though some optimistic folk are pinning their hopes on a UK opt-out, despite chances looking slim.

So that is the story so far. While there is no need to bulk buy, or dash on to eBay to buy your vitamins from the USA just yet, do support your local health food store and sign any petitions, because there is still considerable doubt over their long-term future. If you wish to know more about this complex subject, or want to talk to someone about how vitamins and minerals can help you to good health, call into your local health food shop today.

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