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Supplements Send 23K People to Emergency Dept. Every Year

October 16, 2015 — Diet pills, energy boosters, multivitamins, herbs, and other supplements send 23,000 people to the hospital every year in the United States, according to an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

About 2,100 of those emergency room visits were serious enough to need hospitalization. About one-third of cases involved young adults between 20 and 34 years old.

The most serious cases involved weight-loss or energy-boosting pills, which caused 72% of events involving heart problems like palpitations, chest pain, tachycardia (fast heart-rate), nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

Many visits also involved children who accidentally ingested supplements. After excluding children, 66% of visits involved herbal or complementary nutritional products, and 30% of visits involved vitamins and minerals.

Conclusions of the study came from surveillance data at 63 emergency departments (called “sentinel sites”). Nationwide estimates were drawn from 3,667 cases between 2004-2013.

The statistics are concerning because half of adults in the United States report using dietary supplements. Most products hit store shelves without any pre-market clearance or laboratory testing. Unlike prescription drugs, which must prove they are safe before they are allowed on the market, supplements must be proven unsafe before they are removed from the market.

In February, an analysis of 24 store-brand herbal products at Target, GNC, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart found that 19 products contained none of the herbal ingredients on the label.

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