/ Food & Drink, Health

Do your vitamin supplements live up to their claims?

Pills on table with knife and fork

Foods that help your immune system, supplements to aid bone health, a drink to regulate your gut – all products many swear by. But should they be able to make such health claims if they’re not backed by science?

So what’s a health claim? Probiotic yoghurts are a good example. They often claim to aid digestion, attributing the benefit to bacterial cultures, which may or may not be scientifically proven.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been given the task of assessing the science behind these claims under European regulations. Yet, out of the hundreds it’s checked so far, the EFSA has turned down roughly 80% of them, since no cause and effect relationship could be found.

So it’s being dealt with?

Well, yes and no. While these claims are being assessed, nobody’s acting on the conclusions. Under the regulations, EFSA gives its scientific assessment, but these only become law once the European Commission has taken them to the member states to vote on.

This is already a lengthy process that has been further delayed due to the huge number of claims submitted. So we’ll have to wait until late next year for voting to happen and then manufacturers will be given roughly six months to comply with any changes. This leaves consumers in the dark, plain and simple.

In the words of our chief policy advisor Sue Davies, ‘These delays simply give irresponsible companies a further reprieve to bamboozle consumers, who will be left with no idea about which health claims they can trust.’

Shouldn’t supplement choices be informed?

A lot of people believe in the benefits of these supplements and that they should be free to choose. That’s fair enough, but these choices should be informed.

You can’t make an informed decision if a health claim isn’t backed by independent scientific assessment. Plus, although many of these claims have been shown to be misleading, it’s taking far too long for enforcement to be carried out.

And not only could you be paying a premium on the basis of unsubstantiated claims, we also found supplements with potentially unsafe levels of vitamins and minerals without recommended warnings in place. This is especially worrying when a third of the 1,263 supplement takers we asked didn’t know that taking too much could damage your health.

Do you think it’s right for us to wait so long for unsubstantiated health claims to be removed from food supplements? Or do you think it’s a consumer choice, and manufacturers should be able to claim what they want?


At best people are likely to waste money on vitamins and other supplements. At worst they could damage their health, as you have pointed out. A balanced diet will provide all the vitamins needed by most people and anyone who would benefit from medical care.

The companies that make claims that can not be substantiated need to be exposed and ridiculed.

“A balanced diet will provide all the vitamins needed by most people and anyone who would benefit from medical care.”

Don’t believe everything the govt tells you. The Vitamin D Council amoung other clinical studies reveal that exposed (caucasian) skin makes around 10,000 IU of Vitamin D3 in about half an hour of midday sun, yet the obsolete RDA is 400IU.

Although the genome can play a significant part in resistance to aging disease, there’s a grand canyon of difference between cells getting getting just enough vitamins & minerals to prevent deficiency disease and enough nutriment available to provide resources for optimal functioning and regeneration. This is achievable today with nutritional technology.

Alas, the majority of broad spectrum supplements available on the market that seek to address this fall down, because unless a tablet is enteric coated, the formulation is destroyed by stomach acid, rendering the benefits largely inneffective, so you get expensive urine (the formula needs to be delivered to the intestines)

As far as I know, there are only a couple of firms globally that solve this problem, one based in New Zealand, and a self-funding research group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. And no, I have no commercial interest in either, if you are wondering!


I seem to have written some gibberish. Sorry about that. What I had intended to say was that no-one should be taking any supplement without evidence of need.

I do believe that the recommendation for vitamin D consumption should be reviewed, but be aware that taking vitamin D in excess can be harmful. Even the Vitamin D Council admits this, even though their website advertises companies that sell the stuff.

Your comment about stomach acid damaging supplements is presumably taken from information provided by a company selling supplements. It is not necessary to understand much science to know that this is a worthless generalisation, misrepresenting the truth. As Alexander Pope said, a little learning is a dangerous thing.

“Although the genome can play a significant part in resistance to aging disease….” I don’t know what that means.

At best you will waste your money taking supplements and at worst you will damage your health. Some nutritional therapists focus on clients eating a good diet to provide adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, but others promote them for the sake of profit.

Hi, I was wondering if anyone had any info on health supplements, glucosamine being the main area. I have spoken to my doctor and physiotherapist and both are extremely vague on the subject. So I was wondering if anyone knows the answer. Do they work for some and not others? Is there a brand that is leading the way? I’m a 58 year old fell walker whose knees and ankles are giving him much gip!
Many thanks Ken.

There is very little evidence that glucosamine is helpful to those who suffer from arthritis. Like anything else, if you believe that it can be helpful, you might see a benefit. This is known as the placebo effect. In excess, it is known to be harmful.

I inherited plenty of glucosamine tablets and also chondroiton. Neither did anything to help my arthritis. Maybe if I had expected them to work they might have been useful.

Losing weight is beneficial for those who are overweight, since it decreases wear on the joints.

Frank says:
24 August 2013

Hear hear. Now let’s hope Which? will have to guts to point out the utter clinical worthlessness of homeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, faith healing and all the other components of witchcraft-based medicine. Complementary, alternative, integrated, whatever adjective you wish to use for the many practices of this type, they are not medicine in the accepted sense of providing a genuine cure: they are placebos. As such they may well have a place in making people feel subjectively better, just like health supplements, but objectively they do nothing. And they become dangerous when people continue to trust them where serious diseases are concerned.