Millions at risk from vitamins overdose

Article date: 17 November 2005

Two-in-five (41%) GPs believe their patients are overdosing onvitamins and remain in the dark about the negative effects somevitamins have on their health, the latest "Health of the NationIndex" reveals today.

More than 80% of GPs say their patients don’t know that someeveryday vitamins and vitamin supplements can react with commonmedication they may already be taking. For example, ironsupplements can interact with antibiotics and make them lesseffective in fighting infection. And high doses of vitamin B6, usedby many women for premenstrual tension, can cause nerve damage,while too much vitamin A taken during pregnancy can harm an unbornbaby.

GPs are seeing more and more cases of vitamin misuse with 13%reporting that their patients suffered adverse side effects fromvitamins in the last year.

Norwich Union Healthcare’s latest "Health of the NationIndex" found that nearly all (93%) GPs say their patientsoverestimate the health benefits of taking vitamins with manypeople using them as a substitute for a healthy balanced diet andlifestyle.

More than three-quarters (79%) of the GP Panel interviewed byindependent healthcare research specialists, Dr Foster have seen anotable increase in the number of their patients self medicatingwith vitamin supplements over the last five years.

Dr Ann Robinson from the GP Panel, says: “If you have ahealthy, balanced diet, you shouldn’t really need to bepopping extra supplements. Most vitamins are safe but there’sa lot we don’t know yet about side effects and possibleinteractions with other drugs. My philosophy is always to stay awayfrom all pills unless you really need them.”

41% of GPs feel that there is simply not enough informationavailable about vitamins for people to make an informed decision ontheir own.

They also believe there should be stricter controls over theregulation of vitamin supplements - 81% of doctors support the newlegislation calling for more testing, even if it would mean thatsome vitamin supplements are no longer available on the highstreet.

58% of GPs believe that the selling of vitamins should berestricted to appropriate health professionals such as pharmacists,rather than being freely accessible over the counter or purchasedvia the internet.

Dr Doug Wright from Norwich Union Healthcare, adds:“It’s easy for people to convince themselves thatvitamins are a quick fix for an unhealthy lifestyle but people needto be aware of the potential dangers that lie in taking too many ormixing them with certain medication.”

The findings are part of Norwich Union Healthcare’s bi-annual"Health of the Nation Index", now in its third year, which tracksGPs’ views of the health service and the health of theirpatients.

The Index also reveals:

  • Obesity remains the most pressing concern for 83% ofGPs 
  • Contentment at work continues to rise each year with 53% ofdoctors expressing high/very high levels of job satisfactioncompared to 42% 18 months ago (April 2004)
  • GPs are also working fewer hours than 18 months ago - onaverage five hours less per week (45 hours per week, November2005) 
  • Doctors believe that shorter waiting lists would be the mostbeneficial improvement for patients’ experience of thehealth service
  • 74% of GPs believe that smoking cessation services are aneffective use of NHS resources.

Roger Taylor, research director at Dr Foster, said:“People are bombarded every day with advertisements forproducts designed to make them healthier. What they need isaccurate information about the things that really make a differencewhen it comes to looking after themselves.”

A copy of the latest "Health of the Nation Index" can be viewed archive of previous reports can also be found there.


Media contacts:
Charlotte Ruddlesdin or JoMisson, QBO Bell Pottinger on 020 7861 2424.

An ISDN facility is available for studio quality broadcast. CallQBO Bell Pottinger on 020 7861 2424.

Norwich Union Press Officecontacts:
Lorna Wiltshire: 020 7662 1013 or 07800 695150
James Evans: 01904 452 791 or 07800 699 525

Notes to editors:
Case studies available onrequest.

Norwich Union Healthcare commissioned Dr Foster to conduct researchamongst approximately 250 practicing GPs from across the UK inSeptember 2005.

About Norwich Union Healthcare
NorwichUnion Healthcare was founded in 1990 as the healthcare arm ofNorwich Union and now provides a range of income protection andprivate medical insurance products that cover over 870,000 lives.It is one of the largest providers of income protection and privatemedical insurance in the UK.

Norwich Union Healthcare is authorised and regulated by theFinancial Service Authority and is a member of the Association ofBritish Insurers and the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of images areavailable from Aviva’s internet press centre at

About Dr Foster
Dr Foster is the leadingindependent authority on healthcare quality in the UK. It publishesinformation that is accessible to the general public and providesinformation analysis to the professional healthcarecommunity.

An independent Ethics Committee with substantial powers to enforceeditorial and research integrity oversees the organisation.

Further information is available at

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