Vitamin pills are over-prescribed and over used in India especially in the rural, backward regions.
Vitamin pills and mineral preparations, which are not necessary to the disease being treated, are prescribed by 68% 0f doctors in India’s rural areas and 54 per cent doctors in cities, according to a study on use of vitamin and mineral combinations conducted by National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad.
NIN, which is working under the aegis of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India found that most of prescriptions for vitamins and mineral preparations are not only totally irrelevant to the disease condition but a gross waste of money also.
No wonder if multivitamin capsules like Pfizer’s Becosules continue to remain the top selling brand in India. Becosules is currently the 11th largest prescription in the Indian market according to market research agency ORG Marg. Becosules used to be the number one –most prescribed and sold –medical prescription till a few years ago.
Like other drugs, vitamins and minerals too have side effects, but most of the people who consume vitamin pills think that they are good for health and abuse them, medical experts say.
People take vitamin pills indiscriminately as they are not aware of their side effects. They do not even realise that what are abusing vitamins. “In fact, we found that doctors based in cities are also irrationally prescribing vitamin pills. According to NIN findings, almost 40% of the vitamin and mineral combinations prescribed were irrelevant to the disease, while 14% were relevant but the dose was over-prescribed. The situation is even worse in rural areas,” said Dr Dinesh Kumar, scientist with NIN and general secretary of Indian Pharmacology Society.
Most of the vitamins will have very little or no effect upon the body. They are merely flushed out through the urine. So, spending on them is really like throwing your money down the drain, experts point out.
B-complex is the most abused and those who take it regularly without any prescription are just wasting their money. In rural areas, doctors are giving B-complex injections and it is the government which is paying for it.
Some of the vitamins are not even excreted through urine. Rather they get accumulated in the body in excess dozes and turn toxic, vitamins A, D, E are examples.
Minerals such iron in multi-vitamin-mineral preparations can even cause serious and irreversible damage to some of the vital organs in the body. Iron or ferrum containing tonics and tablets are widely prescribed in India to address anaemia –a drastic low in red blood cell count, a common condition related to malnutrition in India. More than required concentrations of iron in the body can lead to failure of kidneys, a vital organ that keep the body healthy through filtering out unwanted toxins from the body and pass it as urine.
“Anaemia is a serious problem among Indian women but excess of iron can result in kidney failure,” said Dr Neeta Kumar, scientist with ICMR.
Irrational prescriptions and overuse of these vitamins and minerals need to be urgently monitored. Generally, vitamins and minerals are categorized under dietary supplements. and not under strict surveillance like drugs. Experts say, the dietary supplements should also have to be observed like drugs. “Like antibiotics, dietary supplements should also be monitored and be prescribed only when a patient needs them. Their overdose can lead to neurological problems or affect the motor functions, kidneys etc. One should particularly be careful about the use of fat soluble vitamins [A, D & E],” said Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, head of department of internal medicine, Max Healthcare, Saket.
Pharmaceutical firm use strong strategies to promote vitamin preparations. This coupled with their easy availability, lack of awareness among consumers are some reasons of such over use of vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins can make up for deficiency is common perception. But it is wrong. There is no need for these supplements, if one maintains a balanced diet. Nothing can substitute a balanced diet, say experts.