Dietary supplements may be in vogue among health-conscious consumers, but that doesn't mean they're not without risks.
New research shows that on average people call poison control centers in the U.S. every 24 minutes due to dietary supplement exposures – 275,000 calls from 2000 to 2012. The research, from Nationwide Children's Hospital's Center for Injury Research and Policy and Central Ohio Poison Center, was published Monday in the Journal of Medical Toxicology.
The rate of calls has fluctuated over the years. Between 2000 and 2002, the rate increased 46.1 percent before dipping 8.8 percent between 2002 to 2005. Calls spiked 49.3 percent between 2005 and 2012. The 2002 to 2005 decrease probably resulted from the Food and Drug Administration's ban on ma huang, a botanical supplement that existed in certain supplements.
Breaking it down further: 70 percent of these calls involved children younger than 6 years old, though most of these cases were inadvertent. Only 4.5 percent of these exposures resulted in a serious medical outcome, and 95 percent of the most serious outcomes were in children 6 years and up.
Energy products, botanicals and cultural medicines were responsible for the highest proportion of serious medical outcomes. Yohimbe, a member of the botanical category, resulted in the largest fraction of serious medical outcomes at 28.2 percent. It can lead to heart beat rhythm changes, kidney failure, heart attack, seizures and death. It's frequently advertised as a male sexual performance enhancer, CNN reports.
But why all these calls? Blame miscellaneous substances in common dietary supplements, at least in 43.9 percent of cases. Dietary supplements are not classified as drugs and therefore don't have to endure clinical trials or receive FDA approval before being sold – save for it being "labeled as intended for therapeutic use," Dr. Gary Smith, senior author of the study and director of the Center of Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's, said in a statement.
Study authors say results indicate the need for bolstered energy product regulation, child-resistant packaging and information for caregivers.
"It should be considered whether the potential benefit of taking the supplement really outweighs the risk of your child accidentally ingesting something they shouldn't and becoming sick," Trella, who didn't work on the study, added.