Tablets, capsules or liquids - the market for vitamins in the form of food supplements is growing steadily. A current, representative survey by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) indicates: One third of the population in Germany takes vitamins via food supplements at least once a week, and every sixths person even daily. However, with a balanced and varied diet, the body receives almost all vitamins in sufficient quantities. "Food supplements are unnecessary for most people," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "Those who take high doses of vitamins without an actual need risk an oversupply and thus undesirable health effects."
Go to the BfR Consumer Monitor information booklet, Special "Vitamins as Food Supplements":
Almost all respondents (93 percent) consider vitamins to be essential for human life. In fact, vitamins are indispensable for most bodily functions - for example, they strengthen our immune system and promote the development of cells, bones and teeth. As the body cannot produce them or, in some cases, only in insufficient quantities, they have to be ingested with food. About half of the respondents state that they often consciously pay attention to an adequate vitamin intake. Fruits and vegetables are considered the most important sources of vitamins by almost all, followed by fish and legumes. Only about one quarter of the respondents consider food supplements to be an important source of vitamin intake.
Nevertheless, about one third of the respondents state to take vitamins via food supplements at least once a week. Every sixths person takes them even daily - especially vitamin D, followed by vitamin B12, vitamin C and multivitamin preparations. Most frequently, respondents spontaneously mention the compensation of a deficiency as a potential health benefit. However: From a scientific point of view, in healthy people who eat a balanced and varied diet, an insufficient vitamin intake and a resulting undersupply are very rare. Only in certain cases is the intake of vitamins via food supplements explicitly recommended, for example for folic acid before and during early pregnancy.
The respondents perceive the 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 the consumers, but only about every tenth non-consumer, see a high health benefit in taking them. As the main health risk, respondents mention a potential overdosage: Among the non-consumers, three out of five (59 percent) rate the likelihood of an oversupply - when vitamins via food supplements are taken daily - as high. Among the consumers, this figure is lower at 42 percent. In fact, the risk of an oversupply increases when high-dose vitamin preparations are taken in addition to a balanced diet.
Food supplements are food, hence must not endanger the health. The responsibility for this generally lies with the food companies. 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 standardized EU-wide regulations.
About the BfR Consumer Monitor
Be it antimicrobial resistance, microplastics, salmonella or aluminium in foods - which health risks do the population know about and what is it that worries them? The BfR Consumer Monitor, a representative population survey that has been conducted regularly since 2014, provides answers to these and other questions. To this end, around 1,000 people living in private households in Germany take part in telephone interviews conducted on behalf of the BfR. Furthermore, the BfR conducts representative surveys on individual topics of particular current interest, such as tattoos, e-cigarettes, superfoods or food additives.
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. The BfR advises the Federal Government and the States ('Laender') on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.
This text version is a translation of the original German text, which is the only legally binding version.