BBC: Are supplements safe and do they work?

27 October, 2018

Extracts below. Full text here:


The story of a man who ended up needing a liver transplant after taking green tea capsules has brought the topic of dietary supplements back into the news. What are some of the dangers of supplements and what are the health benefits? []

When Jim McCants started taking green tea pills he had hoped he was giving his health a shot in the arm.

Instead, it appears the pills caused such serious damage to his liver that it required an urgent transplant...

If you take supplements in quantities above recommended levels there are risks...

"The caveat with taking a supplement is it could be safe in a broad population, but not in everyone," Dr Carter [University of Nottingham]...

Dr Carter said his own advice would be for people to look at what kind of scientific evidence there was in support of a particular supplement before taking it and check whether there are any warnings.


Yesterday I watched the BBC Two Horizon programme: Vitamin pills: Miracle or Myth? online (UK only)

The documentary suggests that companies that produce and sell vitamins and dietary supplements systematically mislead people into believing they will benefit, while not highlighting the risks, while nevertheless complying with UK law on what they are allowed to state. It would be interesting to know what the situation is in low- and middle-income countries, where regulation may not be easy to enforce.

Best wishes, Neil

Joint Coordinator HIFA Project on Information for Prescribers and Users of Medicines

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 18,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on five global forums in three languages. He also currently chairs the Dgroups Foundation (, which supports 800 communities of practice on international development, health and social justice. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: