WHILE once 'an apple a day kept the doctor away', these days we are confronted with a stream of conflicting information on how top live a healthy life.

In the latest health debate, alarming research has come to light stating that popular vitamins supplements may increase the risk of death, but local Coffs Harbour resident Narelle Willis is not concerned.

"I've been taking vitamins for about 30 years and I've never had a problem. At the moment I'm taking a women's multi-vitamin, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C, and I've found that they have positive effects on my health," Ms Willis said.

"The medical profession often come out with studies like this ? I think there's a conflict of interest involved," she said.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, warned that vitamin A increased the risk of mortality by 16 per cent, beta carotene (a nutrient closely related to vitamin A) had a seven per cent rise, and Vitamin E supplements had a four per cent increased risk. Ms Willis said that it is important to be informed about what you are taking, and these days advice is readily accessible.

"There is a lot of professional help easily available ? there's a 1800 Blackmores number you can ring to get free advice from a naturopath, and there are a lot of consultants in healthfood shops."

Ms Willis prefers to take a more holistic approach to her life, and said that while vitamins can help us, health is more than just a quick dose of pills.

"These days it's hard to get all of our vitamins out of our food unless we grow it, wash it, and eat it straight away. People today do all the wrong things and think a pill will help ? you need to balance it with a healthy life style," she said.

The international study has come under fire from critics who said that it was flawed and based largely on studies of people who were chronically ill before they were treated with the supplements, and that the doses used were significantly higher than those allowable in Australia.

Naturapath Tracey Hayes, from Healthy Life Coffs Harbour, said that the study was largely alarmist and

said that the most important thing to consider when choosing a vitamin supplement is to cater to your individual needs.

"In Australia we have a very strict regulatory body ? the Therapeutic Goods Association ? to ensure the supplements and medicines we take are safe and effective.

"Vitamins and supplements are good things when properly used. People are all different and their needs are individual. It's therefore vital to seek advice from a trained professional when choosing vitamin supplements," she said.

While pharmacist-in-charge David Metcalf from Palms Pharmacy warns that high doses of vitamin A can be toxic, he said that at the end of the day vitamins are not harmful when taken in the right amounts.

"I don't think there is a risk of death at dosages recommended by the manufacturers. In the past 10 years the natural nutrition industry has come a long way in terms of providing an alternative health approach against proven therapies," he said.

Mr Metcalf also said that unless you have a vitamin deficiency, a well-balanced western diet will generally provide the recommended dose of vitamins.

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