/ Health

Do vitamins and supplements make you healthier?

Lots of people take supplements to boost energy or keep joints healthy. But our investigation found that there’s a chance that they might not always have the health benefits you’d expect.

When we looked into the health claims on the packaging of certain supplements we found that the ‘key ingredient’ might not deliver on the health benefit you might gather from reading the label.

In fact, we found that a multivitamin you could pick up in any supermarket for a lower price could often do just as much good as a supplement designed for specific complaints.

Do you check the label?

Many people take supplements – and in our survey of 3,422 Which? members who do, cod liver oil and other fish oils were the most commonly used, with six out of ten of you taking them.

However, our investigation found that no special health claims can be made about cod liver oil at all – this might be surprising, especially as half of the people we surveyed think that it helps to support joints and cartilage.

In fact, the active ingredient in the tablet that’s contributing to your joint health is actually vitamin D – which is naturally present in cod liver oil, but can also be found in other cheaper multivitamins.

It was much the same story with co-enzyme Q10, taken by one in ten of those we surveyed. This is often promoted as an energy supplement, but this is often down to B vitamins in the tablets rather than the co-enzyme Q10 itself.

You’d have to squint to find out the vitamin ingredients on the back of the label of some supplements, as they aren’t always listed at the front. But it’s important to check and see exactly what it is that you’re taking.

Bad reactions to supplements

Some of you told us about problems you’ve had after taking supplements, like skin irritation after taking vitamin B6, and a laxative effect possibly caused by magnesium in a supplement.

But we found that there is no systematic way of recording these side effects and finding out how common they are. With no official reporting system that catalogues side effects or bad reactions to vitamins, unlike medicines or herbal supplements, it’s difficult to know what your risks are from taking these products.

So do you take vitamins and/or supplements, and if so, do you find them beneficial? And have you experienced a bad reaction to a supplement before?


The only vitamin we keep is Vitamin C 1000mg.

We take it for a few days at the first sign of a cold or if someone sneezes over us or when flying. I haven’t had a bad cold for at least 25 years when someone told me how good it was.

It is also stops cold sores developing if I take them immediately I feel my lip quivering.

I don’t think it is a good idea to take any of these supplements on a regular basis as there is plenty of information online to suggest they can upset the bodies balance.

But I definitely can’t eat 70 oranges that is supposed to be the equivalent of 1000mg of vitamin C so not a problem taking them just for a few days.


Hi alfa, the late American professor of chemistry , Linus Pauling originally recommended the use of vitamin C for the prevention of colds. If I recollect correctly this was in the 1960’s. More recent medical evidence does not support professor Pauling’s recommendation and GP’s certainly do not recommend it. A normal balanced diet contains plenty anyway. It is present both in veg. and fruit. As a retired GP I am not aware of any evidence that vitamin C can prevent cold sores. You may like to have a year without the supplement! ( Complete absence of vitamin C from the diet causes scurvy which can be lethal. Hence, in the past sailing ships on long sea voyages always carried a supply of apples).


Dave just a correction, the original cure that was introduced to the Royal Navy was not apples as they rotted quickly but LImes . Hence in deporting prisoners to Australia the prisoners/sailors were called Limy,s /limies in Australia taken up by the US at one time for English citizens.


Dave, if you read my post properly, I don’t take vitamin C on a regular basis. I probably take less than a dozen tablets in a year.

Next time you feel a cold coming on, try it and you might just get no more than a few sniffles.


Seems a very strange article to post on the day that it is announced that the Scottish Parliament is considering adding folic acid to flour.

I think we can quite reasonably take a view that as many foods are already incorporating vitamins and supplements by Government edict. The question is are there others that should be added or have we got the right amount from our current lifestyle and diet.

Many countries add Vitamin D to milk, lack of folic acid and birth defects has been known in the UK since 1985. There is no doubt there are dubious and contrary research results out there however I have no doubt that given 5-10 years we will be giving better advice and also advising that all peoples metabolism are different rather than realising on averages.


As you say, people differ. That’s why it makes sense to test people if a vitamin deficiency is suspected. If my memory you told us that you had arranged your own vitamin D testing, Dieseltaylor.

We all need vitamins for health but may get all we need from a decent diet. That’s my approach, and if I was concerned about my health I would arrange to be tested.

Although vitamins are essential, taking more than we need may not be beneficial and could be harmful. It frightens me to see the shelves of vitamins etc in the supermarkets.


Holland & Barratt , owned by theCarlyle Group are the largest UK seller of supplements and have made the Press this last week on “requesting” cost reductions from their suppliers.

“Holland and Barrett is being accused of squeezing small businesses after it sent a letter to suppliers demanding contributions to its investment plan. In a letter this month, seen by the BBC, the high street retailer says it wants a reduction of costs of at least 5% from all its suppliers. It also wants suppliers to pay for £3m worth of security tags and CCTV. ” BBC

Perhaps they are gearing up for a flotation later this year. Last year they made much: ” The firm, which is based in Nuneaton , saw sales rise by 11.7 per cent to £513.6million for the year ending September 2015, with profit before tax up by 12.2 per cent to £146million” Coventry Telegraph.
A very very good return on sales.

In the US this recent report from the NY DA might give pause for thought until one finds out are things different in the EU. As for those who like to buy from the US ……
“Of all the store-brand herbal products tested from these stores, only 21% turned up DNA from the plants listed on the products’ labels, while 79% of the results showed either no DNA related to the labeled content or turned up contamination from other plant material, including rice, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wheat, houseplant, wild carrot, and others.

For the testing, researchers obtained multiple samples of each of the six supplement types — Gingko Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea, and Saw Palmetto — and tested each sample five times. In all 78 samples were tested 390 times.”


Overdose of vitamins = Vitamin A= doses over 10,000 IU can lead to hair loss ,diarrhea. dry skin,nausea,headaches ,it also increases the risk of birth defects — Vitamin B6 -over 400mg-problems walking ,numbness in hands/mouth –B3-liver damage,abnormal gastric ulceration (ulcers ) . Vitamin C (over 500 mg ) blocks vitamin -B12 . Vitamin E- more than 1000 IU – excessive bleeding (dangerous ! ) , high blood pressure ,fatigue, bad immune system action . Vitamin D-over 10,000 IU calcium deposits on kidneys ( VERY painful kidney stones ) high blood calcium -high cholesteral, HBP (Dangerous ) cacium deposits ALL over body . Iron- more than 25mg damage to Pancreas,liver,heat muscle (dangerous ) Calcium- more than 2000 mg -kidney damage, fatigue deposits on tissue . Zinc- more than 75 mg anemia, abdominal bleeding (dangerous ) impared immune function – premature births -still birth . Selenium – more than 750mcg- tooth decay, loss of nails ,yellow skin, diabetes (dangerous ) low immune system . Iodine- more than 2mg – it can SHUT down your thyroid gland Very dangerous ) heavy menstrual cycles and numerous smaller problems . ALL per day .