Vitamin tablets are taken often because people believe they improve health and protect against disease. But according to a new study popping too many supplements can in actual fact raise the risk of heart disease and cancer. When over the counter supplements intake exceeds the daily amount that may have a counter effect, experts say.

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Dr Tim Byers, of the University of Colorado Cancer Centre, said: ‘We are not sure why this is happening at the molecular level. ‘But evidence shows that people who take more dietary supplements than needed tend to have a higher risk of developing cancer.’ The research found that 20 years back, people who ate more fruits and vegetables tended to have less cancer. So Dr Bryers did further investigation to find out whether taking extra vitamins and minerals would further reduce the risk of developing the disease.

He said: ‘When we first tested dietary supplements in animal models we found that the results were promising. ‘Eventually we were able to move on to the human populations. We studied thousands of patients for ten years who were taking dietary supplements and placebos. ‘We found that the supplements were actually not beneficial for their health. ‘In fact, some people actually got more cancer while on the vitamins.’

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One trial probing the effects of beta-carotene supplements showed that intake exceeding the recommended dosage raised the risk for developing both lung cancer and heart disease by 20 per cent. In another trial it was found that folic acid, which was believed to decrease the number of polyps in a colon, in actual fact increased the number.

Dr Bryers said: ‘This is not to say that people need to be afraid of taking vitamins and minerals. ‘If taken at the correct dosage, multivitamins can be good for you. ‘But there is no substitute for good, nutritional food.’ He added that by eating healthy diet we can get the daily recommended doses of vitamins and minerals. The findings were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2015.

Critics nonetheless have a different view; they say many people are deficient in vitamins, and supplements can help them get the nutrients they need. Furthermore, Council for Responsible Nutrition, declared that government research shows Americans do not get all the nutrients they need from food alone, and in those cases, dietary supplements can help fill nutrient gaps. It also recommended that vitamin supplements be taken under the direction of a doctor.