Supplements warning: Thousands risking health by not asking GP

Almost half of those polled took at least one supplement – such as vitamins, calcium or fish oil – daily. However, seemingly harmless herbal tonics can prove deadly if they interact with other medication. Rachael Clarke, of Co-op Health, which commissioned the research, said people should consult a GP before taking supplements. 

She said: “It’s surprising how many take supplements without any advice from a healthcare professional. 

“There’s a lot of misleading information out there on the impact of supplements and the benefits they have on health.” 

A third of 2,000 Britons surveyed by YouGov said they began taking supplements after reading about them online or in a magazine. The NHS says most people do not need supplements if they can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy, balanced diet. 


Before taking supplements, check with your GP or pharmacist that they are safe. 

This is crucial if you have a medical condition are pregnant or breastfeeding or taking any other medicines or supplements. 

Even herbal supplements can have dangerous interactions which can be fatal. 

Inferior products can contain large amounts of bulking agents. 

If you have intolerances, check the ingredients. Vitamin supplements have high levels of vitamins so toxicity can set in very quickly if the dose is exceeded. 

Damage may be irreversible. Fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K can stay in the body causing toxicity. 

In pregnancy, too much vitamin A (sometimes called retinol) can cause birth defects. 

Excess vitamin A over just three months may cause liver failure. 

Too much vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer. 

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Beware of fake pills and pick a trusted supplier. 

• Rachael Clarke is a Pharmacy Superintendent at Co-op Health


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