Results from the Institute’s survey of around 1,000 people also found one in six take food supplements every day in a finding that could have long-term health implications.
“The market for vitamins in the form of food supplements is growing continuously. says BfR President Professor Dr Andreas Hensel.
“The diverse range of tablets, capsules and liquids give the impression that a sufficient vitamin intake is not possible from diet alone. However, in most cases taking vitamins via food supplements is not useful.
“On the contrary: Taking high-dose food supplements in addition to a balanced diet increases the risk of an oversupply of the respective vitamins.”
The representative population survey or the BfR Consumer Monitor sets out to ask which health risks the population are aware of and what aspects worries them.
Conducted regularly since 2014, this latest survey also finds the majority of respondents (93%) think vitamins to be essential for human life.
Fruit & veg
Additionally, around half of respondents believe they pay attention to adequate vitamin intakes with fruit and vegetables considered the most important vitamin sources, followed by fish and legumes.
Only around one quarter of respondents consider food supplements to be an important source of vitamin intake.
With one in six respondents confessing to taking supplements daily, the survey finds vitamin D, followed by vitamin B12, vitamin C and multivitamin preparations to be the most popular.
When questioned further, a deficiency of a vitamin was the most popular reason for taking the food supplement.
Further analysis of the respondents thought processes finds they perceive expected positive effects and potential health risks of vitamins in food supplements differently - depending on whether they take the respective products or not.
About half of consumers, but only around one in ten non-consumers, see a high health benefit in taking them.
As regards the issue of overdosage, with non-consumers, three out of five (59%) rate the likelihood of an oversupply (when vitamins via food supplements are taken daily) as high.
Among consumers, this figure dropped to 42%. In fact, state the survey team, the risk of an oversupply increases when high-dose vitamin preparations are taken in addition to a balanced diet.
Not endanger health
“Food supplements are food, hence must not endanger health. The responsibility for this generally lies with the food companies,” the BfR points out.
“Food supplements do not undergo any official authorisation procedure, during which actual health safety must be proven.”
The German Food Supplements Regulation (NemV) specifies which vitamins may be added to a food supplement.
However, it does not contain any legally binding maximum amounts for the addition of vitamins.
The recommendations published by the BfR for maximum levels of vitamins in food supplements can contribute to the discussion on establishing standardised EU-wide regulations.