Germany’s BfR warns of vitamin oversupply risk, as study reveals ‘continuously growing’ supplement use

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A new survey commissioned by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) shows that around a third of Germans take supplements every week, and one in six uses them daily. 

But Germany’s independent health protection agency, while making clear the “indispensable” role of vitamins in maintaining health, does not appear to view this as a good thing. In an introduction to its new report, BfR president professor Andreas Hensel restates the organisations’s view that “food supplements are unnecessary for most people”. And he warns of the risk of “oversupply and thus undesirable health effects” among “those who take high doses of vitamins without an actual need”. 

Continuously growing market 
Explaining the contextual background to BfR’s new survey, Hensel notes: “The market for vitamins in the form of food supplements is growing continuously. The diverse range of tablets, capsules and liquids give the impression that a sufficient vitamin intake is not possible from diet alone”.

BfR, known for a supplements-sceptical viewpoint, says it commissioned a nationwide survey “to find out how important the population thinks food supplements are in order to cover vitamin needs, how often they are consumed and how the population rates the benefits and health risks”. 

The survey found that 35% of respondents take vitamin supplements every week, with 16% taking them daily. Vitamin D (45%), vitamin B12 (36%), vitamin C (32%) and multivitamins (28%) were the most widely used supplements. When asked how they rated the health benefits of food supplements 35% of (all) respondents said ‘very highly’, 33% said ‘medium’ and 28% said ‘very low’. 

When asked about the health risks of vitamin and food supplements, nearly half (49%) said they viewed these as either ‘very high’ or ‘medium’. Asked to rank the health benefits of supplements, ‘compensation of deficiencies”, ‘protection from or overcoming diseases’ and ‘covering the general vitamin need’ occupied the top three places. 

Oversupply risk 
Quizzed about the likelihood of “falling into oversupply” (as a result of taking supplements), a striking 49% of respondents thought the risk ‘very high’ and just 19% rated the risk ‘very low’. 

Survey details
Conducted 23 to 28 November 2021. Participants were drawn from an online access panel in Germany aged 16 years and over. Random sample of panel participants with representative quota control according to gender, age, education, and region
Additional weighting according to gender, education, age, employment, size of city, German federal state, and household size.

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