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Perfectly reasonable behaviour

MagazineOctober 1997 (Vol. 8 Issue 7)Perfectly reasonable behaviour

Unless you and I do something about it, the supplement that has the greatest role in sorting out premenstrual difficulties is going to be banned at the dosages necessary to do any good

Unless you and I do something about it, the supplement that has the greatest role in sorting out premenstrual difficulties is going to be banned at the dosages necessary to do any good.

No doubt you've heard that the Food Advisory Committee has recommended to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) that B6 supplements be limited to 10 mg, unless on prescription.

This recommendation, originating from the Committee on Toxicity (COT) was based on a single 1987 study by K and M Dalton, two Harley Street specialists in hormone replacement therapy. Their study (Acta Neurolo Scand, 1987; 76: 8-11) purported to show that B6 is toxic in dosages of 50 mg. Nevertheless, this "study" consisted of a telephone poll carried out on women suffering from PMS whose various and often vague symptoms were attributed to the B6 supplements they were taking. The 50 mg is toxic equation is also based on a study of dogs given 50 mg a day, which in equivalent dog body terms is like feeding them 3000 mg of the supplement per day.

At a recent press conference in July, Dr John Hathcock, who is director of Nutritional and Regulatory Science for the US Council for Responsible Nutrition, and a director for the US Food and Drug Administration, along with Dr Alan Gaby, Professor of Nutrition at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington, and author of a book on vitamin B6, presented evidence to demonstrate that the Dalton study was "flawed". For one thing, it is the only report in the medical or scientific literature which attributes adverse reactions to B6 at levels less than 200 mg per day. Indeed, they said, the methodology of the Dalton research was termed unreliable by Dr Herbert H Schaumburg, the very doctor who first reported on pyridoxine sensory neuropathy syndrome, which he observed in women taking 2000 mg per day or more.

The symptoms of women in the Daltons' study was "consistent with minor disturbances of metabolism" more likely caused by food intolerance than B6 overdosage, said Dr Gaby.

Although there is nothing on paper yet, the government would like to have legislation in place in January.

So far, 80 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion (EDM 209) to reopen the scientific debate. However, Rooker stands by the COT results and has said he has no intention of reevaluating the data.

If this vitamin ban goes ahead, it will kill the health food store business in high dose B6 supplements, make it only possible to get supplements between 11-50 mg in a chemist, and have anything above that (100 mg is the usual dose recommended for PMS) available only by prescription, making it expensive and inaccessible for the majority of women. It means that many good general multi vitamin supplements containing more than 10 mg will have to be reformulated or removed from the shelves. And it might also pave the way for further restrictions on other non prescription supplements. There are fears that vitamin C, selenium and vitamin E are next on the hit list.

The one thing that might stop the government from going ahead is a consumer revolt. Now and for the next few months is the time to initiate a letter writing war. Write to your MP (ring 0171 219 4272 if you don't know who that is) and ask him to support Ann Winterton and David Tredinnick's EDM 209; write also to Jeff Rooker to demand consumer freedom of choice in alternative medicine. Get everyone else you know to do likewise.

Or, if you're a woman like me who relies on 100 mg B6 per day to stay sane every month, you might register your protest by giving the government's B6 dosage a go. After a few months, blowing up the Houses of Parliament will probably seem like perfectly reasonable behaviour.

Lynne McTaggart


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