Side effects of supplement intake focus of French project

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food supplements, Nutrition, France

With increasing dietary intake of food supplements in France, a government programme to monitor their consumption and any undesirable side effects arising from their use is underway.

The project is being conducted by the French food agency, AFSSA (Agence Francaise de securite sanitaire des aliments) and was prompted by legislation earlier this year aimed at keeping track of the supplement and wider functional food industry in France.

Marie Favrot, director of nutrition risk assessment at AFSSA, told that vigilance systems are already in place in France to assist with reporting observed side effects in terms of prespriction drugs, but a reporting mechanism was essentially lacking for the supplement industry:

“More and more people are consuming food supplements in France, and as a result, we need to put structures in place to enable better understanding of any potential side effects arising from this dietary intake,”​ she said.

Supplement usage

A recent survey on French dietary habits by AFSSA showed that more than a quarter of French women used food supplements over the past 12 months – more than twice the number of men.

The survey found 26.5 per cent of women but only 12.6 per cent of men consumed supplements in the last year.

Across the board, supplements use in France increased with education levels, and advice from the medical profession is the main reason for use leading to 23 per cent of food supplements consumed by adults and 37 per cent consumed by women being classified as drugs.

Food supplements users in France are typically cure-seekers as well as those seeking to maintain general health levels, with 20 per cent of adults and 10 per cent of children using supplements on a daily basis for these purposes.

“Supplements are more rarely consumed to achieve a balanced diet,”​ the report said.

But 63 per cent of food supplements consumed by adults and 79 per cent of supplements consumed by children were either multivitamin blends or mixed with other products.

Pilot phase

Favrot said the pilot phase of the monitoring programme will last a minimum of six months and requires health professionals to submit data to the government agency relating to any adverse effects observed in patients who have taken food supplements.

The programme, she added, will be extended to all types of functional foods after the inital six months.

AFSSA said that all data received will be analysed by a technical committee, which may collaborate subsequently with the agency’s scientific panels or with its European counterparts.

Misuse of data

Dr Robert Verkerk, executive and scientific director at the pan-European group, Alliance for Natural Health, told this publication that although government-led efforts to accumulate adverse event reports through practitioners, health stores and other suppliers of supplements is in principle sound, there is great potential for such data to be misused:

“We have seen both in Europe and the USA, numerous cases where food supplements have been flagged as causative agents of particular adverse effects when further scrutiny demonstrates they were simply among large lists of products, often including medications and even alcohol and recreational drugs, consumed.

“It is utterly misleading to misrepresent the role of food supplements in such instances and the only way around the problem is to ensure absolute transparency in reporting, access to medical records and in the drawing of conclusions as to the potential contributory role of specific food supplements.”

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