Do I need supplements?

Heart-shaped fruit and vegetables

I have read that vitamin and mineral supplements can help me keep my heart healthy. Is this true and do I need them?

BHF dietitian Victoria Taylor says:

There may be a place for supplements in the diets of specific groups of people, such as young children, pregnant women and the elderly, but for most of us, vitamin and mineral tablets are not necessary unless they have been prescribed by a health professional.

A wide range of supplements are available in shops and on the internet, some of which make claims about improving general health, as well as more specific conditions like coronary heart disease (CHD).

Sticking to a healthy, varied and balanced diet will provide your body with all of the energy, vitamins and minerals you need

However, a report from NHS Choices in 2011 highlighted that many of the claims made about the benefits of supplements have not been backed up by robust evidence. None of the most recent UK official guidance for the prevention and management of CHD recommends the use of dietary supplements.

It’s also worth remembering that, while taking extra vitamins and minerals can seem like a harmless addition to your diet, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. In tablet form, vitamins and minerals are more concentrated than in food, and more is not always better.

High intakes of some vitamin and mineral supplements can come with adverse effects. The antioxidant vitamins A, E and beta-carotene, for example, should definitely be avoided. Research has shown that these may actually have a harmful effect on health when consumed as supplements.

If you’re thinking about taking a supplement that hasn’t been prescribed, talk to your doctor before spending your money and make sure that you do not exceed your daily requirement.

In most cases, sticking to a healthy, varied and balanced diet will provide your body with all of the energy, vitamins and minerals you need.

Victoria Taylor Meet the expert

Victoria Taylor is a registered dietitian with more than ten years’ experience. Her work for the NHS focused on weight management and community programmes for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. At the BHF she advises on diet and nutrition.

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