The tests carried out by Stiftung Warentest (test.de) sampled a number of supplements available in drugstores, health care centres, pharmacies, supermarkets and on the internet – finding that more than half of the products purchased contained vitamins at levels that exceeded BfR safety limits.
Indeed, ten of the 35 items tested were drastically above safety limits, with test.de noting that some contained up to 34 times the recommended values.
“Of the 35 funds that we purchased in July 2017, 26 exceeded BfR's recommendations for the maximum daily dose in dietary supplements,” said the report – which noted that especially high doses were found mostly in products purchased online.
“In two cases, for example, the capsules provide more than 17 times the BfR recommendation for vitamin E,” it said.
Indeed, 80% of those ordered online via Amazon exceeded limits, said the report which also warned that high doses of fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K can be particularly dangerous as they can accumulate in the body.
It added that while dietary supplements can be a good thing in principle, and are recommended for certain target groups – such as folic acid for pregnant women or vitamin D for babies – the majority of people who eat a healthy and balanced diet do not usually need dietary supplements.
Commenting on the report, Patrick Coppens, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at Food Supplements Europe (FSE) said the core of the issue comes back to the setting of appropriate maximum levels for vitamins and minerals.
"There is wide divergence between the Member States in that respect," he told Nutraingredients. "In Germany there are no legal maximum limits, whereas in other Member States there are. As Food Supplements Europe we have worked on further harmonsiation of maximum levels and developed a risk management model which proposes safe maximum levels for vitamins and minerals in food supplements, based on real intake data and the upper tolerable intake levels established by EFSA."
He added that the FSE model, together with the BfR values, were both part of the approaches that Commission presented in its 2006 discussion paper on the setting maximum and minimum amounts for vitamins and minerals in foodstuffs.
"It was our model and not the BfR approach that was retained in the subsequent DG Sanco Orientation paper on the setting of maximum and minimum amounts for vitamins and minerals in foodstuffs, published in 2007," he said - noting that the FSE model indicates that there is a "wide range of safety above what was proposed by BfR and that food supplements have a long safety record."