- By Deb Balzer
Dietary Supplements: Risk and Concerns
Every day thousands of people take dietary supplements. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say some of those supplements are not as safe as you might think. A new CDC study published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows close to 23,000 people visit the Emergency Department (ED) every year because of dietary supplements. Many of these trips to the ED involve cardiac issues caused by weight loss products and stimulants. A key issue is that many over-the-counter dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there's often no way to tell if a supplement is safe or if it will cause adverse side effects. Mayo Clinic nutrition expert Dr. Donald Hensrud says, "The evidence supporting beneficial health effects of most dietary supplements is not very strong, and there are potential adverse effects. One reason people take dietary supplements is to improve their general health. However, the evidence supporting a healthy, balanced diet is magnitudes stronger than any dietary supplement."
Dr. Hensrud also says that while the CDC study showed the most common dietary supplements that led to ED visits were weight loss and energy supplements, consumers should be aware that some other supplements have been shown to cause adverse effects. Those supplements include:
- B6 (pyridoxine) and niacin, when taken in large amounts
- Beta-carotene, particularly in smokers and former smokers
- Vitamins A and E should be avoided unless prescribed by a physician
Some supplements can be beneficial, but Dr. Hensrud suggests that people talk to their health care provider to make sure the supplements they take are safe. He also recommends storing supplements in a safe place away from children to avoid overdose or choking.