Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Diet Supplements and Safety: Some Disquieting Data

From The New York Times:

Diet Supplements and Safety: Some Disquieting Data

Since 1983, the American Association of Poison Control Centers has kept statistics on reports of poisonings for every type of substance, including dietary supplements. That first year, there were 14,006 reports related to the use of vitamins, minerals, essential oils — which are not classified as a dietary supplement but are widely sold in supplement stores for a variety of uses — and homeopathic remedies. Herbs were not categorized that year, because they were rarely used then.

By 2005, the number had grown ninefold: 125,595 incidents were reported related to vitamins, minerals, essential oils, herbs and other supplements. In all, over the 23-year span, the association — a national organization of state and local poison centers — has received more than 1.6 million reports of adverse reactions to such products, including 251,799 that were serious enough to require hospitalization. From 1983 to 2004 there were 230 reported deaths from supplements, with the yearly numbers rising from 4 in 1994, the year the supplement bill passed, to a record 27 in 2005.

The number of deaths may be far higher. In April 2004, the Food and Drug Administration said it had received 260 reports of deaths associated with herbs and other nonvitamin, nonmineral supplements since 1989. But an unpublished study prepared in 2000 for the agency by Dr. Alexander M. Walker, then the chairman of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, concluded: “A best estimate is that less than 1 percent of serious adverse events caused by dietary supplements is reported to the F.D.A. The true proportion may well be smaller by an order of magnitude or more.”

But most other types of herbs and specialty supplements also appear in the annual report. In 2005, the poison centers received 203 reports of adverse reactions to St. John’s wort, including 79 hospitalizations and 1 death. Glucosamine, with or without chondroitin, was linked to 813 adverse reactions, including 108 hospitalizations and 1 death. Echinacea was linked to 483 adverse reactions, including 55 hospitalizations, 1 of them considered life-threatening. Saw palmetto was not listed on the report.

Note that St. John's Wort is on the list, it's a popular supplement for depression.

This isn't an indictment of herbal meds, it's just a heads-up.

Let's be careful out there.


Dream Writer said...

A long time ago (about 5 years ago or so) I read that St. John's Wort was NOT the best herbal remedy for depression...there was a big debate about it...I think that any kind of overdose of anything is not good...even vitamins.

In fact, my son's pediatrician insists that if your child is on a good regimen diet that no supplement vitamins are truly needed.

I use to give my kids "Flinstones" when they were popular back in the day!

Too much of anything isn't is all about "Balance."

Speaking of's your back?

CP said...

So, the new saying is now...What kills you doesn't make you stronger?


Can't win.

Nicole said...

Glad you shared this info with us. Just because it's "natural" doesn't mean it's good for us. Think poison ivy. :)

Jon said...

Thanks all for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

DW - when I was in Jr High School it was quite the thing to eat an entire bottle of Flintstones vitamins. It was claimed you would get high. Sick is more like it. And my ribs still hurt, but I'm back to working out. It will be another 2 weeks or so until I'm pain free, and I can't do all my lifts, but I still get in a good workout.

CP - Good stuff. Thanks for stopping by, and I linked to your blog.

Nicole - I agree with you. But that being said, maybe it does work - in moderation.