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Dietary Supplements: Natural Doesn’t Mean Safe

More than 23,000 peopled admitted to ERs each year

A study by researchers at the FDA and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that approximately 23,000 emergency room visits each year are linked to supplement use and that about 2,154 of these admissions lead to hospitalization. The riskiest ones are weight-loss and energy-boosting products, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers studied emergency room records from 2004 to 2013 at 63 hospitals.

Products for weight loss or increased energy accounted for most of the ER visits. These products caused 72 percent of problems involving chest pain or irregular or too-fast heartbeats, and they were the culprits in more than half of visits among patients ages 5 to 34. Bodybuilding and sexual-enhancement products also led to cardiac symptoms in many seeking ER help.

After excluding unsupervised ingestion of dietary supplements by children, the authors found that 66% of ER visits for single-supplement–related adverse events involved herbal or complementary nutritional products and that 32% involved micronutrients. Herbal or complementary nutritional products for weight loss (26%) and increased energy (10%) were commonly implicated. Weight-loss or energy products caused 72% of supplement-related adverse events involving palpitations, chest pain, or tachycardia. Among adults 65 years of age or older, choking or pill-induced dysphagia or globus caused 38% of all ER visits for supplement-related adverse events; micronutrients were implicated in 83% of these visits.

According to Medical Xpress, roughly half of all U.S. adults say they have used at least one supplement product in the past month, most commonly vitamins. Dietary supplements do not have to have FDA approval before they are sold, nor do they undergo the kind of testing that prescription drugs do. The FDA can order a product off the market if it is found to be unsafe.

Sources: Medical Xpress, October 14, 2015; and NEJM


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