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Too many supplements are bad for you

11th October 2011

Taking too many dietary supplements can be a health risk, according to a recent US study.

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The researchers found that, in some cases, taking in minerals in excess of recommended daily allowances could cause serious health problems.

People's capacity for risky supplement use is partly aided by the fact that, as people age, they are more likely to take supplements.

Lead researcher Regan Bailey, who researches nutrition at the National Institutes of Health, said that people needed to choose supplements to help meet, but not exceed, the recommended daily intake levels.

For the study, the researchers made use of a major US government health survey done between 2003 and 2006.

The health survey included information on the diets of about 8,860 people.

The researchers found that, on average, people who reported taking supplements were actually the ones who least needed them.

People who took supplements tended to have well-rounded, healthy lifestyles.

On the other hand, many people whose diets were not well-rounded did not take supplements.

Women were also more likely to take supplements, regardless of dietary choices, and hence were the most likely to be getting too many minerals.

Cheryl Rock, a nutrition researcher at the University of California in San Diego, who did not take part in the study, said that while nutritionists would like to believe that the people who took supplements were the ones who needed them the most, that did not seem to be true.

The researchers also found that people's calcium intake was usually below the recommended level, regardless of age or supplement use.

Nearly a quarter of all those who took supplements, as well as three quarters of those who did not, did not receive a level of calcium that the US Dietary Agency (USDA) considers adequate, between 800 and 1,000 mg per day for men over 51 and between 1,200 and 1,400 mg for women over 51.

However, some people took too much calcium, which can cause kidney stones to form, including 16% of women aged 51-70.

Many people also took too much magnesium and zinc, although scientists have not studied the effects of excess magnesium and zinc.

Rock said that the system of having a recommended daily allowance confused some people, who regarded it as a minimum requirement, and that it would be a good idea for people to have their diets assessed professionally.

 

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