Dietary Supplements May Land You in the E.R.

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Recent studies emphasize the importance of doing your research on supplements before ingesting them. In a study published yesterday by the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that herbal, nutritional, and homeopathic supplements were responsible for about 23,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. and over 2,100 hospitalizations annually.

Interestingly enough, over 25 percent of these emergency room patients were between the ages of 20 to 34. About 20 percent of them were children who had—unsupervised—ingested supplements formulated for adults. The most common symptoms reported included heart palpitations, chest pain, of tachycardia.

In the United States, dietary supplements are commonly used by a large percentage of the population, despite the fact that there is a glaring lack of national data on their long-term effects. Many are unaware that there are absolutely no dietary supplements approved by the FDA.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can warn the public on products found to be dangerous, vitamin and supplement manufacturers are not required to obtain FDA approval before marketing these potentially harmful products. Instead, only the manufacturer itself is responsible for making sure that “the products it manufacturers or distributes are safe” and that “any claims made about the products are not false or misleading.”

This system of self-regulation was imposed in 1994 with a piece of legislation called the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act, and has not been updated since. It isn’t too far of a stretch to speculate that manufacturers are much more likely to be motivated by profits than by providing consumers with honest information about the safety of their products.

Following numerous reports of adverse effects throughout the past several decades, experts have suggested that patients report any supplement use to their healthcare providers, something that is often overlooked by both doctor and patient. Supplements may interact with prescribed medication or even inhibit them from working properly.

Before considering taking a dietary supplement, ask your doctor first—and for further reference, check the FDA’s Consumer Updates page for warnings and misleading claims made by supplement manufacturers.

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