SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

May 29, 2013

Supplements lack safety regs

Product safety

Supplement poison calls on the rise


The Central Ohio Poison Center received nearly twice as many calls last year about dietary and herbal supplements as it did a decade ago. Critics say supplements are lightly regulated, heavily marketed and widely available at health retailers and drugstores and via the Internet.

The poison center, which is housed at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and serves half of Ohio’s counties, received 611 calls about supplements in 2012, up from 323 in 2003. The supplements in question include weight-loss products and energy boosters, not vitamins and minerals.

The surge in call volume is due in part to far greater prevalence of the supplements than in the past, said Henry Spiller, the poison center’s director.

For example, the percentage of the U.S. population taking at least one dietary supplement grew from 42 percent in 1991 to 53 percent in 2005, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

  • Spiller was a co-author on research published this month in Pediatric Emergency Care that found a 274 percent increase in poisonings from dietary and herbal supplements in children younger than 6 between 2000 and 2010.

The researchers evaluated data at 12 poison centers in five states — Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas — and found that the total number of reported exposures among those younger than 6 increased from 1,017 to 3,798 in that decade.

Officials with the Central Ohio Poison Center say the number of calls about dietary and herbal supplements has increased.

The dietary-supplements industry recorded more than $30 billion in sales in 2011, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

“Clearly, there is increased availability,” said Spiller, noting a shift in buying from bricks-and-mortar stores to the Internet. Often, he said, the thinking among consumers is, “‘If it’s ‘natural’ and it’s for sale, it’s safe.’ That is not necessarily so.”

Since 2004, the poison center has logged 54 hospitalizations requiring intensive care as a result of dietary-supplement use, although the annual number has declined sharply in recent years. The number of calls linked to weight-loss supplements also has dropped, from 215 in 2003 to 90 last year. That’s because of a 2006 ban on the sale of the appetite-suppressant ephedrine as a dietary supplement, Spiller said.

Still, only a tiny fraction of adverse reactions to supplements is ultimately reported, said Dr. Marvin Lipman, the medical editor of Consumer Reports. Another problem, he said, is that many over-the-counter supplements are spiked with prescription medications, including some used to treat erectile dysfunction.


Under a 1994 federal law, dietary supplements do not need approval from the Food and Drug Administration before they are marketed, as long as they don’t make specific health claims.

“As long as you don’t cross that magic line and claim that you’re curing a disease, there’s really no one watching,” Spiller said. “It’s really ‘consumer beware.’”

Still, dietary supplements continue to draw fresh scrutiny after the December 2011 death of a Maryland teenager linked to toxic over-caffeination. The girl had consumed large cans of Monster Energy on two consecutive days.

Another product that has provoked recent controversy is Jack3d, a powder that’s marketed as a workout enhancer and contains dimethylamylamine, a synthetic compound that the FDA said has been linked to adverse effects and deaths.

Despite such concerns, it’s difficult to pull such supplements off the market, Lipman said.

Poison calls

The Central Ohio Poison Center has received far more calls about dietary and herbal supplement ingestion in recent years, though fewer of the calls involve products used for weight loss. Calls for problems with supplements received by the poison center since 2003:

Consumers should look for seals on dietary supplements indicating that their contents have been verified by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, Lipman said. Less than 2 percent of supplements receive such a designation, which does not guarantee that the product is effective.

Advertising for dietary supplements on sports- and talk-radio programs has increased significantly in recent years, said Don Caster, owner of Raisin Rack, a natural-food store in Westerville that gets about 30 percent of its revenue from dietary supplements. He said his store deals only with reputable companies.

“The really good companies are not run out of someone’s basement anymore, like they were 40 years ago,” he said.

Caster said the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to make sure the advertising of any product, including dietary supplements, is truthful, substantiated and not misleading.

He said consumers have a responsibility to research products they’re buying and use them properly.

Some consumers have the mindset that if two capsules work, “I’ll take four,” Caster said.




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      Comment by Jan Turner — January 13, 2014 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

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