Scientists are warning against the use of certain vitamins amid claims they can increase the risk of heart disease.
Britons are being told not to take supplements containing vitamin A or beta carotene.
Research has found those vitamins lead to ‘small but significant’ increases in the chances of developing cardiovascular disease and of death from all causes.
Both are found in many multivitamin capsules or can be taken on their own.
Dr Marc Penn, who led the study, said yesterday: ‘Given the results, the use of vitamin supplements containing beta carotene and vitamin A should be actively discouraged because this family of agents is associated with a small but significant excess of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular death.’
The findings – published today in the medical journal the Lancet – will shock Britons who spend £175million a year on supplements and pills. Forty per cent of women and 30 per cent of men pop a vitamin pill each day. Ten million Britons regularly take the most popular vitamins – C and E and beta carotene, the pigment found in carrots, tomatoes and broccoli which the body converts into vitamin A. Previous studies have suggested such antioxidant vitamins offer protection against cardiovascular disease by delaying the progression of atherosclerosis – the furring up of the arteries.
But the latest study – an analysis of 15 separate pieces of research involving more than 200,000 patients by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in the U.S. – says no such benefit has been shown in large trials.
It found beta carotene actually led to a 0.4 per cent increase in deaths from all causes and a 0.3 per cent increase specifically in cardiovascular death.
The researchers said their findings were ‘especially concerning given that the relevant beta carotene doses are commonly used in preparations of over-the counter vitamin supplements and are included in smaller doses in readily available multivitamin supplements that have been advocated for widespread use’.
They also concluded that Vitamin E was not beneficial in reducing the risk of death.
Dr Penn added: ‘Vitamin E just does not do anything in people who have coronary disease or who are at high risk for coronary disease and beta carotene may actually cause harm.
‘We recommend that clinical studies of beta carotene should be discontinued because of its risks.
‘Given our results … we do not support the continued use of vitamin E treatment.’
The study comes just weeks after the Food Standards Agency claimed many vitamin supplements did more harm than good and urged people to cut down on vitamin C, calcium and iron.
It also warned that smokers who took high levels of beta carotene supplements could actually increase their risk of lung cancer.
This latest scare has infuriated many in the vitamins industry, who claim there is an orchestrated campaign by the medical establishment to discredit their products.
Last night, they rejected it, claiming researchers used doses of vitamins that were far higher than the average.
Ralph Pike, of the National Association of Health Stores which represents 12,500 shops, said: ‘I think there is an active campaign to discredit vitamins, because the concept of people being responsible for their own health is anathema to big business.’
Dr Ann Walker, a lecturer in human nutrition at the Uniof Reading and an adviser to the Health Supplements Information Service, accused the Lancet of ‘ hyping’ the findings.
‘They appear to take very great glee in suggesting that vitamin and mineral supplements are a waste of time or even hazardous,’ she said. ‘The fact of the doses of beta carotene involved in these studies were far higher than people would get from a multivitamin supplement.’ The scientists said further research was needed to understand the reason for the increased risk associated with beta carotene. One possibility was that it might interfere with fats in the body. Information shared by using various News agency.