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New assessment of risks and benefits of vitamins and minerals in food

02/2005, 17.01.2005

BfR submits proposals for maximum levels in food supplements and fortified foods

ACE juice in various flavours, multivitamin effervescent tablets, Omega 3 bread or combination products with minerals and vitamins: food supplements and functional foods with a hoped-for “additional benefit” are all the rage in Germany. This diverse and growing offering prompted the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) to undertake a new assessment of the health benefits and potential risks of vitamins and minerals in individual foods. “Together with the action options formulated by us, the results of our assessment form the scientific basis for laying down maximum levels for vitamins and minerals in food and supplements and fortified foods”, explained BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. By means of uniform maximum levels, the consumer was to be effectively protected from potential damage to his health and misleading claims. The extensive, two-tome documentation is now available from BfR.

Most vitamins and minerals are essential – human beings need them to live. This doesn’t, however, mean that people’s health improves in line with their growing intake. It is true that some vitamins are simply eliminated when they reach an adequate concentration in the body. However, in the case of other vitamins and minerals oversupply can indeed be linked to health risks. For instance, too much vitamin A can be embryotoxic in the first three months of pregnancy. But a vitamin or mineral deficiency can be equally damaging to health: pregnant women, who have an inadequate supply of folic acid, are at increased risk of their babies being born with Spina bifida, also called “open spine”.

“The special feature of the risk assessment of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals is that consideration must be given to the risks of both undersupply and oversupply”, stressed Dr. Rolf Großklaus, Head of the BfR research group “Dietary Foods, Nutrition and Allergies”. BfR has responded to this challenge by undertaking a comprehensive health assessment of the risks and benefits of vitamins and minerals which is now available. Thanks to this assessment it is possible, for the first time, to derive maximum levels of these substances for specific food supplements or fortified foods using scientifically based risk assessment. The data currently available in Germany on food habits and the supply situation of the population have been incorporated into these recommendations. When formulating the action options, the sensitivities of various consumer groups were also taken into account.

The scientists used a uniform, standard procedure when drawing up the proposals on maximum levels. According to this, the amount of a vitamin or mineral which can be additionally taken in without any risk to health results from the difference between the amount of vitamins and minerals taken in from normal foods and the respective scientifically defined tolerable upper intake level of a vitamin or mineral. In the case of individual substances like, for instance, vitamin A there is no scope for additional intake from food supplements or fortified foods after applying this standard procedure.

The European Parliament has also recognised the need for uniform provisions concerning vitamins and minerals in food supplements and in June 2002 it adopted a corresponding directive. This latest assessment by BfR is, therefore, a suitable basis for the discussion of maximum levels of vitamins and minerals that are taken in additionally from food supplements or fortified foods, to be held in Germany and, more particularly, on the European level.

The assessment of vitamins and minerals published by BfR is not only intended for those involved in the risk management of foods and food supplements but also for doctors, nutritionists and pharmacists as well as students in relevant disciplines. The two report volumes (03 and 04/2004) published in the series “BfR Wissenschaft” can be ordered from the BfR Press and Public Relations Office, Thielallee 88-92, 14195 Berlin (Fax: +49-(0)30-8412-4970, e-mail: As of now, the report on vitamins is available in English (04/2005). The volume on minerals will follow.

The English version of the report volume on vitamins is available on the BfR homepage. It can be downloaded as a PDF file on in the section “Publications/BfR-Wissenschaft”.


Publications - BfR-Wissenschaft

Date Title Size
BfR-Wissenschaft 04/2004
Verwendung von Mineralstoffen in Lebensmitteln 1.6 MB
BfR-Wissenschaft 03/2004
Verwendung von Vitaminen in Lebensmitteln 1.3 MB


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