Dietary supplements in a variety of forms, including as vitamins, herbs or energy drinks, are often marketed to consumers as a simple solution to boost energy, induce weight loss and improve overall mood.
But new research published Monday in the “Journal of Medical Toxicology” highlights the potential dangers of dietary supplements, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
In fact, researchers found that the rate of supplement-related calls to poison control centers increased by 49.3 percent between 2005 and 2012.
According to data from the National Poison Data System, there were 274,998 dietary supplement exposures called in to U.S. poison control centers — that’s about one call every 24 minutes.
And of those exposures, 70 percent were in children ages six and under, nearly all unintentional and accidental.
“Sometimes, parents don't think of keeping dietary supplements away from their kids, because they're not medicines prescribed by the doctor. People think of them as natural,” Henry Spiller, lead author of the study and director of Central Ohio Poison Control, told CNN. "But they need to be treated as if they were a medicine. Don't leave them out on the counter. Keep them out of reach."
Approximately 4.5 percent of the cases (more than 12,300) led to serious medical complications.
Most dangerous supplements
While the majority of the cases didn’t require treatment at a medical facility, authors of the study warn exposures to dietary supplements yohimbe (herbal supplement promoted as male sexual performance enhancer) and energy products are considerably toxic.
Overall, the most dangerous supplements, according to the study, are yohimbe, homeopathic agents marketed to help with conditions like asthma or migraines, energy drinks and ma huang, a stimulant with ephedra that was outlawed by the FDA in 2004 after it was linked to multiple deaths.
Authors plea for FDA regulation
“Because dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, there are not robust studies done to ensure that they are efficacious or have a reliable safety profile,” Jeannette Trella, managing director of the Poison Control Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and not involved with the study, told CNN. “We're often going down a path of unknowns, and for possibly no benefit at all.”
But the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which leads trade for the dietary supplement industry, said it is invested in providing safe products for the more than 170 million Americans who take these supplements each year.
“We recommend that consumers store dietary supplement products in safe places, out of a child's reach. In addition, we recommend that consumers talk with their doctor or pediatrician about their family's supplement use,” the Council said in a statement.
Still, the authors of the study call on the FDA to consider the regulation of yohimbe and energy products as the administration did for ma huang, which helped dramatically plummet calls to poison centers in 2004.