Each year, 23,000 people land in the emergency room as a result of herbal or dietary supplements, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, these supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Patients—mostly young adults, children, or the elderly—wind up in the ER complaining of symptoms including heart palpitations, chest pain, and choking.
While pharmaceuticals ultimately cause more ER visits, the concern is that herbal and dietary supplements remain largely unregulated, according to an article in The Washington Post. What's more, many of them may contain hidden ingredients, so it’s difficult for consumers to know what’s really in the products they’re buying.
The Washington Post reports:
In recent years, U.S. health officials have ramped up efforts to warn consumers about the potential dangers of these substances after several highly publicized cases of deaths of otherwise healthy individuals who took supplements. Last year, two people — Logan Stiner, an 18-year-old high school senior in Ohio, and 24-year-old James Wade Sweatt of Georgia, who was newly married and a recent college graduate — died of overdoses from powdered caffeine.
Lamar Odom’s four-day coma from a combination of “herbal Viagra” and cocaine has also shined a light on under-regulated herbal products.
Back in March, a legal ruling found that GNC stores, as well as Target, Walmart, and Walgreens, were guilty of selling contaminated herbal supplements that were fraudulently labeled. As a result of the ruling, GNC agreed to overhaul its supplement testing. New testing is much stricter than regulations at the federal level. The mega-chain agreed to use DNA testing to prove supplements contained the listed ingredients, as well as testing for common allergens like soy, tree nuts, and wheat. It’s unclear whether other retailers will implement similar quality control standards as a result of the ruling.
In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was signed by President Clinton. Prior to this law, dietary supplements were subject to the same regulations as foods, but today they do not require FDA approval. It's up to the manufacturer to ensure the safety of their product.
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Dietary supplements image via Shuttershock