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A healthy contraband

MagazineSeptember 1991 (Vol. 2 Issue 6)A healthy contraband

If the Ministry of Agriculture has its way, I'm going to have to buy the vitamins I take with my breakfast cereal on the black market

If the Ministry of Agriculture has its way, I'm going to have to buy the vitamins I take with my breakfast cereal on the black market.

A recent working group on Dietary Supplements and Health Foods met because of expressed concerns about unregulated health foods and vitamin and mineral supplements. One of the Working Group's targets is megavitamins. They contend that dosages of many substances on the market are potentially toxic; 50 mg of vitamin B6, they claim, has been shown to cause abnormal sensory nerve function in otherwise healthy adults, even though vitamin B6 is routinely sold on the market at dosages of 100 mg or more.

Consequently, they recommend that where there is concern about nutrient toxicity, "no daily dose of supplement should contain more than one tenth of the undesirable dose". This would have the effect of making many vitamins containing more than the Recommended Daily Allowance illegal.

Patrick Holford, director of the Campaign for Health through Food, which is launching a public campaign to block these proposals, says in a press release: "Currently maximum vitamin and mineral levels in supplements are controlled by a voluntary code laid down by the Health Food Manufacturer's Association (HFMA). These safety levels are entirely adequate. There has never been a single case of proven toxicity anywhere near these levels, while there are literally thousands of proper research reports proving the benefits of supplementation. Yet, without the support of valid scientific evidence the DoE and MADD are proposing, for some nutrients, to ban supplements containing a tenth of these levels. One gram of vitamin C, for example, would be illegal."

As would most of the vitamins I take. I credit my daily intake of B6 with helping to end terrible PMT and also helping this comparatively "elderly" primigravida to sail through pregnancy without one day of morning sickness. Because I am allergic to wheat, well monitored multivitamins are essential, as they may well be for many others.

As Holford points out, the proposals are based on the assumption that RDA will completely do the job in every case. This is "despite the fact that those authorities such as the National Academy of Sciences in the States, which set US RDA levels, says that 'these are not optimal levels of intake' but rather levels designed to prevent overt deficiency."

Besides making people like me with small problems worse off, the Working Party's paper may stifle the fledgling work that is being done on the effects of food and supplementation on a large variety of serious illnesses, now that it is just getting off the ground.

Perhaps the most irritating aspect of this proposal is the double standard that conventional medicine and the government applies to vitamins and herbs, compared with pharmaceutical drugs. People adopting this blinkered mindset assume that powerful, usually inhibiting chemicals are safe until proven dangerous and that unfamiliar substances like herbs and vitamins are dangerous until proven safe.

Taking pills for nutrition may not be as ideal as getting all your nutritional requirements from whole foods, but it may be the only solution for bodies bombarded by the stress of living in the 20th century, a magic bullet way to combat pollution, food that has been tampered with, too many drugs like antibiotics, too little breastfeeding. Or it may not.

What we need are openminded studies on nutrition. The thousands of people looking around for alternatives to the drugs and surgery approach to healing deserve something better than a nanny Britain ban "for our own good".

For more information about the Campaign for Health Through Food's proposal, send an SAE to CHF, 5 Jerdan Place, London SW6 1BE.

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