Thousands of people could be dying prematurely from vitamin supplements, researchers report today, stating that the pills increase the death rate of those who take them by 6 per cent.

One in three women and one in four men in the UK is estimated to take dietary supplements for health reasons. But a review of 14 trials of vitamin pills taken by 170,000 people found they increased the death rate by 6 per cent. While they offered no explanation as to what caused the deaths, they discovered that the supplements offered no protection against cancers of the gut.

The researchers, writing in The Lancet, estimate that for every one million people taking the supplements, 9,000 would die prematurely as a result. The figure takes account of the background level of premature death in the population.

Dr Goran Bjelakovic, of the University of Nis in Serbia, who led the review, said: “We could not find evidence that antioxidant supplements can prevent gastrointestinal cancers. On the contrary, they seem to increase overall mortality.”

Two UK experts described the findings as “somewhat chilling”. Professor David Forman of the University of Leeds and Douglas Altman of Cancer Research UK says in The Lancet: “The prospect that vitamin pills may not only do no good but also kill their consumers is a scary speculation given the vast quantities that are used in certain communities.”

More here.