Nearly 1,000 kids, teenagers and young adults sought medical attention after taking dietary supplements to help them lose weight, boost energy, or build muscle between 2004 and 2015, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. About 40 percent of those cases involved trips to the emergency department, hospitalization, disability or death.
The study involved both vitamin and supplement consumption among the youths, but researchers said supplements were to blame for the vast majority of the adverse events.
“Compared with vitamins, dietary supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building, or an energy boost were associated with nearly triple the risk of serious health problems,” said the study’s lead author, Flora Or, with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Health problems included chronic diarrhea, dehydration, stroke, seizures, heart problems and kidney and liver damage.
The researchers said that there were two reasons why the supplements were causing harm to teens – they were either tainted with dangerous ingredients, or they were combined with other supplements or prescription drugs. It is likely the problem is much larger than the study suggests since many people may not be aware that their symptoms are related to the supplements they are taking.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly warned consumers of the risks of dietary supplements, especially those for weight loss, body building, and sexual enhancement. In general, supplements do not require FDA approval to market their products. It is the company’s responsibility to make sure its products are safe and that any claims they make are true.
“Just because you see a supplement product on a store shelf does NOT mean it is safe or effective,” the FDA said in a safety communication. “When safety issues are suspected, FDA must investigate and, when warranted, take steps to have the product removed from the market. However, it is much easier for a firm to get a product on the market than it is for FDA to take a product off the market.”