FSAI report outlining upper vitamin and mineral limits is “for food industry to take on board”

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has made available a report recommending maximum safe levels for 21 of the 30 vitamins and minerals available in food supplements in Ireland.

As well as an established tolerable upper level, the report, produced by the independent body’s Scientific Committee, highlights the adverse effects of these 21 nutrients if taken to excess.

Dr Pamela Byrne, FSAI’s CEO, said in a statement that the report gained added impetus as the number of food supplements notified to the FSAI as being on the Irish market had been increasing year on year.

“It is incumbent on the food supplement industry to take on board this new guidance, reformulate their products accordingly and provide labels that are easy for consumers to understand,” ​she added.

According to the statutory, independent and science-based body, the numbers had risen from 700 in 2007 to over 2,500 in 2017 – an increase of over 300%.

“Of those notified, the number of products that require more detailed examination to assess if they pose a risk to consumer safety is also continuing to rise, with over 95% of food supplements requiring this due to high vitamin or mineral content,” ​said Dr Byrne.

“We are concerned about the growing number of these products and, in particular, the safety of vulnerable groups of the population in Ireland including children, pregnant women and older people.”

Folic acid and vitamin D

The FSAI said that with the release of this report, the organisation would be able to work with the food supplement industry to establish guidance for the marketing of safe vitamin and mineral supplements in Ireland.

They added that they would also develop a guidance document, in conjunction with food supplement industry representatives, to assist the industry in understanding the implications and findings of this report and the actions they should take in relation to their products.

“The only food supplements that the FSAI recommends are 400µg folic acid per day for women who are sexually active and a 5µg vitamin D3 only supplement per day for all infants from birth to 12 months,”​ said Dr Byrne.

“Our advice for the general public regarding taking food supplements is that it is not necessary to take food supplements to maintain a healthy lifestyle,”

“The FSAI recommends a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and, plenty of exercise,” ​she added.

Professor Albert Flynn, chair of the FSAI Scientific Committee added that safe amounts for a person taking any vitamin and mineral varied according to age and gender.

“People in Ireland are becoming more aware of the importance of a varied and balanced diet for good health which is positive; however, some are using food supplements in their diet and there can be a mistaken belief that ‘more is better’.

“There can be adverse health effects when people take too much of some vitamins or minerals. This is particularly true when it comes to children and adolescents who may be taking the same amounts of vitamins and minerals from food supplements as adults, despite having different needs and smaller body sizes.

“We know from recent surveys of dietary practices in Ireland that most people are getting more than enough vitamins and minerals from their diet alone,”​ he added.

Current EU law

While current EU law determining the maximum safe levels of vitamins and minerals in food supplements provides a general guidance, precise levels have yet to be established.

Some EU Member States have implemented legislation or developed guidance at national level to set maximum safe levels for some vitamins and minerals in food supplements marketed in their jurisdictions.

Under Directive 2002/46/EC, the EU Food Supplements Directive, introduced in 2002, the regulation instructs food supplement makers how to market and present their products to comply with the law.

The tolerable upper intake level (UL) is considered the highest level of long-term daily intake of a nutrient, from all sources, judged to be unlikely to pose a risk of adverse health effects to humans.

The UL was established by a number of international scientific bodies including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The Safety of Vitamins and Minerals in Food Supplements​ report is available on the FSAI website.

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