Dietary supplements are products taken by mouth which contain a dietary ingredient intended to supplement the diet. In the UK many supplements are considered to be foods, not a type of medicine or pharmaceutical, and so they are regulated under general food laws by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department of Health. These laws are not as stringent as those for medicines.

Regulatory processes

Before a medicine can be marketed it must be approved by the Medicine and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which makes its decisions based on a product’s safety, quality and efficacy … how well it works.

The Department of Health sets Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) for the UK population. DRVs provide information on the amount of energy and nutrition, including vitamins and minerals, that groups of people of certain age range, and sex if appropriate, need for good health. Dietary supplements and certain foods, therefore, carry labels denoting the percentage of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) contained in the product.

Since vitamins and minerals are viewed as food, not medicines, they do not get tested and proved that they ‘work’ or that they are safe before they are put on the market. Some of the supplements on the market can be a little bit questionable, and preferably the MHRA should ultimately get involved in regulating them.

So it is a pretty much “buyer beware” market. Things are now turning around and some new manufacturing standards are being put forward. But whether they are “safe” or whether “they work” are not yet mandatory requirements.

Vitamin supplements should not be used as substitute for a balanced diet, and if you do take them, you should make sure you do not exceed your daily requirement.


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