Herbal Supplements Linked to Thousands of ER Visits Each Year
[Posted on: Thursday, October 15, 2015]
One more survey makes bold claims regarding the risks of dietary supplements, particularly those of herbal origins. In a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week, researchers from CDC and FDA made an estimation of emergency room visits to more than 23000 each year which are linked to consumption of dietary supplements about 10% of which lead to hospitalization. Most of the ER visits are by children and young adults for consuming weight loss or energy supplements. Most of the hospitalizations are for elderly people choking on large vitamin pills among others. Almost 9 out of 10 ER visits are linked to an individual supplement while the others are for people taking multiple supplements. The authors concluded that dietary supplements lead to ER visits but the report may be over extending in the perception it creates about the risk of dietary supplements. The numbers have to be taken in context. Adverse events linked to dietary supplements pale in front of those related to contaminated food: Each year about 48 million people get food poisoning leading to about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3000 deaths. There is no question that dietary supplements not manufactured under GMP, those claiming medical benefits, or those containing harmful ingredients must be controlled. Each year FDA gives out numerous Warning Letters for GMP violations and illegal advertisement practices for dietary supplements. It is true that consumers must be educated about proper use of dietary supplements but this study only aims to give us misleading perceptions about the risk that does not practically exist. Dietary supplements are an important component of health management by providing critical elements missing from the diet of an average consumer. Though FDA supports dietary supplements, it is considered that consumers need to be educated how to properly use supplements. Most of the issues pointed out in the study by CDC and FDA researchers are managed much better under the current regulatory regime. Enforcement of GMP laws and accurate advertisement and promotional activities could address most incidences of unsafe supplements. In a way this report will help by creating a much needed robust discussion on safety of dietary supplements, but because of its sensational nature and misleading perception, it will likely be used to create unreasonable alarm in consumers. The authors likely did not intend that, hopefully.
Expert Opinion: Mukesh Kumar
VP, RA, Amarex Clinical Research