Dietary Supplements: Neither dietary, supplements, or even for sure safe

Dietary Supplements:  Neither dietary, supplements, or even for sure safe 

In October 2015, the New England Journal of Medicine published a review of how many people get so sick from taking a dietary supplement they sought care in an ER or got hospitalized.

They found that the answer was thousands.

What is a dietary supplement?
The concept of a dietary supplement has nothing to do with medical science, but rather is a creation of Congress.

A law passed by Congress in 1994 created the category of chemicals now referred to as dietary supplements (the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994).  This law essentially defined a set of chemicals that could be sold to relieve symptoms with legal protection against ever having to prove they work or are safe.  The only safeguard provided was that if someone could prove they hurt people, the FDA would be allowed to take them off the market.

But any substance deemed by the law to be a dietary supplement could be sold to the public with no proof that it worked, that it was safe, or even that bottles of the product actually contain the product described in the label.   This law was largely the creation of the industries that make these substances.

The law defines a dietary supplement as one of three products:
1.  Herbals- botanical products, that is plants, such as echinacea
2.  Complementary nutritionals- purified chemicals known to be part of nutrients, such as amino acids.
3.  Micronutrients- purified forms of vitamins and minerals.

The Findings
The article found that about 23,000 Americans have to go the ER every year due to adverse effects from taking dietary supplements.  About 2000 of them end up hospitalized.

By far the age group that came to the most harm were young adults, ages 20-34.

Three main categories of harm found were:
1.  Heart problems in young adults taking weight loss and energy supplements.
2.  Kids experiencing overdosages from getting into supplements of micronutrients.
3.  Elderly people choking on pills.

The heart problems in young adults was the largest group.

Why this matters
Dietary supplements are hot.

The industry that makes them has been wildly successful in getting us to take them.    About half of all American adults have taken a dietary supplement in the last month.  We spend about a third of all we spend on prescription drugs on dietary supplements.

This is one of the great marketing successes in history, all the more remarkable for selling products that in most cases have no proof of doing anything.

Of course taking something in hopes that it will work is fine if it is harmless.  But if it can hurt you, it seems all the more important to know if it works.

By law, dietary supplements are excused from finding out if they work, and so very few have ever been studied to find out if they do anything in reality.

That makes this finding that so many young adults end up in the ER from them very important.

1.  Dietary supplements are a category created by Congress as part of an industry strategy to sell product, not a product of any medical or science related research.
2.  It turns out that none of them are actually a food, and as such are not really dietary.  They are chemicals and should be judges by the same two standards all chemicals should be held accountable to:  do they work? do they hurt?
3.   We now know that weight loss and energy supplements cause heart problems in thousands of young adults.
4.  Our recommendation is that no one should take any chemical on a regular basis without knowing if it really does work and what harm it can cause.

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

*Disclaimer* The comments contained in this electronic source of information do not constitute and are not designed to imply that they constitute any form of individual medical advice. The information provided is purely for informational purposes only and not relevant to any person's particular medical condition or situation. If you have any medical concerns about yourself or your family please contact your physician immediately. In order to provide our patients the best uninfluenced information that science has to offer,we do not accept samples of drugs, advertising tchotchkes, money, food, or any item from outside vendors.

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