Last Friday the Science Media Centre’s media alert included the following:

Dietary supplements such as multivitamin tablets and energy drinks are an increasingly common part of our lives, but should they be?

Concerns have been sparked recently by the availability of ultra-high caffeine energy drinks, the proliferation of people taking (often large) doses of vitamins/minerals every day, and an industry which appears to have very little legislation to guide its behaviour.

I will confess to having drunk caffeine ‘energy’ drinks in the past (despite their – to me, anyway – awful taste) when I’ve been particularly tired & had to keep working. Not because they contained energy – caffeine has a stimulant effect on the nervous system, so the only energy content would be in the sugar added to the drink, & anyway I went for the sugar-free kind! But I stopped when I found that my blood pressure had gone way too high & that my teeth ‘buzzed’ after I’d drunk one. And that was on the basis of one per day & not every day… Certainly caffeine can have negative physiological effects. (I was intrigued to discover that coffee & other caffeinated drinks aren’t recommended for anyone with a tendency to faecal incontinence, for example.) So I’ll be interested to see the briefing notes tomorrow.

But I also wonder how the idea of regulating vitamins & other ‘dietary supplements’ (I’d go as far as to include complementary & alternative medicines (CAM) in this grouping) will go down with the wider community. Certainly the last time the idea was raised, the outcry from various interest groups led to the whole thing being quietly dropped. Which I thought was quite interesting – you’d think there’d be a lot of support for something which would ensure that the pills & potions that fall under the ‘supplement’/CAM umbrella would contain what they are claimed to contain, and in standardised amounts. This would after all be beneficial to the consumer – there are significant safety issues associated with non-standardisation of these supplements, and also with contamination by non-declared heavy metals (or even prescription drugs). So why the fuss?

It’s certainly a discussion we need to have, & hopefully one that will be better addressed by the media than has been the case in the past.