‘Supplements do NOTHING but damage your wallet’: Millions of customers are wasting their money on products not backed by science, former Government advisor claims
- Dr Paul Clayton said customers are out of pocket with products that don’t work
- Many buy into the ‘hype’ of omega 3, vitamin C and multivitamins, he said
- Claims products with proven benefits are emerging, but blocked by regulations
The majority of supplements sold on the high street are so poorly designed that they ‘cannot be effective’, a former Government advisor has claimed.
Dr Paul Clayton, a clinical pharmacologist, said most firms making the products use cheap ingredients which have little scientific proof.
In a scathing attack on the multi-million pound industry, he said the only effect they have on consumers is rob them of their hard-earned money.
Vitamins and minerals are in no doubt essential to our health, but Dr Clayton said taking them in capsule form gives no additional benefit.
Dr Paul Clayton, a clinical pharmacologist and pharmaco-nutritionist, said customers deserve to know what supplements have evidence they work
Dr Clayton told MailOnline: ‘Doctors have come to expect evidence-based medicine (EBM), and the 2019 consumer deserves evidence-based nutrition (EBN).
‘This is a problem for most high street supplement brands, as the majority are so poorly designed that they cannot be effective.’
Dr Clayton, who was advised the UK government’s now defunct Committee on the Safety of Medicines in the 70s, added: ‘They use untested, unproven and lowest-cost ingredients.
DO YOU NEED TO TAKE SUPPLEMENTS?
Most people don’t need to take vitamin supplements and are able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating.
Many people choose to take supplements, but taking too much or taking them for too long could be harmful.
The Department of Health recommends certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency. These are described below:
- Folic acid supplements in pregnancy: All women thinking of having a baby should have a folic acid supplement, as should any pregnant woman up to week 12 of her pregnancy. Folic acid can help to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
- Vitamin D supplements: Some groups of the population are at greater risk of not getting enough vitamin D. It is recommended all babies from birth to one year of age (including breastfed babies, and formula-fed babies who have less than 500ml a day of infant formula) should take a supplement, as well as all children aged one to four years old, and people who are not often exposed to the sun. Everyone over the age of five years is advised to consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D, but most people will get enough in the summer.
- Supplements containing vitamins A, C and D: All children aged six months to five years should take a supplement containing vitamins A, C and D. This is a precaution because growing children may not get enough of these vitamins, especially those not eating a varied diet – for example, fussy eaters.
- Fizzy (effervescent) tablets: salt advice: Effervescent vitamin supplements or effervescent painkillers can contain up to 1g of salt per tablet. Consider changing to a non-effervescent tablet, particularly if you have been advised to watch or reduce your salt intake.
Your GP may also recommend supplements if you need them for a medical condition. For example, you may be prescribed iron supplements to treat iron deficiency anaemia.
‘Of all the vitamins, the multi-vitamins, omega 3, vitamin C tablets and the like, there is no evidence to support any of them.
‘The one thing they all have in common is they don’t work and have no evidence to support them. When you put any of these things to test, they don’t do anything.’
‘These products are being sold by companies who don’t really know what they are selling, and being bought by customers don’t really know what they’re buying.
‘But it doesn’t really matter with nutritional supplements because they don’t really do anything anyway – only to the consumer’s wallet.’
Sales of supplements have grown by six per cent in five years, with Britons spending an estimated £442million on them in 2018, according to market research group Mintel.
Roughly 34 per cent of British people take health supplements daily, while the figure in the US is closer to the 50 per cent mark, according to a study published in JAMA.
This has been prompted by a health ‘hype’, with increasing numbers of people taking supplements, often endorsed by celebrities and influencers.
Dr Clayton, currently based in the US, predicts a transition from a ‘dark age of pseudo-nutrition’ to ‘the age of evidence-based science’.
Dr Clayton said the supplement market is ‘saturated’. But added there are scores of products with scientifically proven benefits, emerging.
These products, called nutraceuticals or ‘super supplements’, are not currently recognised as distinct from other supplements by officials.
Dr Clayton said: ‘The growing consensus is that nutraceuticals are different from supplements because they have been tested and proven.’
The majority of food and dietary supplements in the US are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration agency, who can take dietary supplements off the market if they are found to be unsafe or if the claims on the products are ‘false and misleading’.
In the UK, where supplements are monitored by the Food Standards Agency, as soon as products begin to make a medicinal claim, for example to prevent or treat disease, they must have a liscence under medicine legislation – the responsibility of The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
But Dr Clayton, who is currently a fellow of the Institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour, a UK charity with Oxford University research programmes, said: ‘The regulatory system was set up to protect the consumer from the nonsense sold on the high street, which I support.
Dr Paul Clayton, who teaches at universities across Europe and works with leading doctors and clinical scientists, said despite the fact we are taking more supplements than ever before, we have never been so sick
‘But it has not caught up with the new generation of nutritional science which has huge benefits.
‘Many of the decisions are made for political reasons. Even if a nutraceutical produces medicinal benefits these cannot be publicised because, according to the law, only drugs are allowed to make such claims.
‘The drugs industry is well aware of this, and uses it to protect its market. It needs to be updated and amended to bring new science.’
Dr Clayton is the director of science for LYMA, a brand that manufactures nutraceuticals.
The firm, based in the UK, uses patented ingredients, and has undergone extensive clinical tests to prove the products’ efficiency and availability once digested – up to four times that of generic supplements.
Some people, including pregnant women, children below five years old and the elderly, are advised by professionals to supplement.
In response to Dr Clayton’s views, UK supplement distributor Healthspan has said: ‘We agree that many high street supplement brands are not effective. This is because they are not made to a pharmaceutical standard known as GMP.
‘Healthspan products are made to GMP standard to ensure safety and consistency of dose. All herbs are checked to ensure they contain the correct plant extracts, and those with medicinal claims are licensed under THR legislation.’