A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine highlights dangers associated with dietary supplements. The study, which was conducted by health authorities at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 20,000 emergency room visits each year are related to dietary supplement injuries. The findings lend support to industry critics, who take issue with the fact that supplement companies face minimal regulations.
The study looked at emergency room visits at a network of hospitals over a 10-year period; researchers assessed how many visits were associated with the use of a dietary supplement. Such injuries included severe allergic reactions, heart problems, nausea and vomiting. Hospitalization was required in about 10 percent, or 2,150 cases yearly. Injuries were linked to different types of supplements, including herbal pills, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Annual emergency room visits for prescription drugs is 30 times as high.
The lead author of the study was Dr. Andrew Geller, a medical officer at the division of health care quality promotion at the CDC. Dr. Geller and his colleagues found that supplement-linked ER visits were more common among young people. Prescription drug injuries, on the other hand, occurred more frequently in older adults. “The contrast is striking,” he said, according to NYT. Individuals between the ages of 20 and 34 accounted for more than a quarter of supplement-related ER visits. In half of these cases, the supplement was marketed for weight loss or energy enhancement. Researchers said these products, such as Hydroxycut, Xenadrine, Rasperry Ketones and Black Jack Energy, were linked to chest pain, heart palpitations and irregular heart rhythms.
Since the hospital did not track deaths, it is unknown whether any of these injuries were fatal. Supplements have come under scrutiny in light of safety concerns. In 2013, an outbreak resulted in 97 illnesses, one death and three liver transplants.
The supplement industry faces few restrictions; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have to approve them, unlike prescription medications. Supplements are considered safe until proven otherwise due to a 1994 federal law that has now come under scrutiny. Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study, said “This is very disheartening,” according to NYT. “What we’re seeing from this study is that the system has failed. It’s failing to protect consumers from very serious harms.”