Food Supplements – How Dangerous Are They?

 (See the comparison charts below)

Most people think that supplements are safe. But are they?

Not if you believe a recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Report authors came out and said they were a waste of money. They further called supplement use “… ineffective and potentially dangerous…”

Strong words.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen such reports. There is an ongoing battle between those who want natural ways to enhance their health, and those determined to stifle supplement sales.

You already know where I stand on this. You should have the ability to make your own decisions about supplement use. But that doesn’t address the safety issue.

Fortunately, someone has addressed it.

The Alliance for Natural Health looked at statistics for the UK. They compared the mortality risk of taking supplements to a wide range of other activities. What they found was surprising.

Even though the data is UK-based, the ratios are very likely to be close to other developed countries. At the very least, the relationship between supplement safety and other risk factors becomes abundantly clear.

For example, the charts show the chance of death from a preventable accident in a hospital is 293,006 more likely than death from taking supplements. And you are 2,219 times more likely to die from a pharmaceutical drug than a supplement.

Then they made two graphs showing their findings. You will see images of these below.

One is a colorful “bubble chart.” The other is a line graph. Both drive home the point that supplements are very safe. I’ll summarize some of the comparisons below, but first, here are the two charts. If you want a large version of each as a PDF file, just click the image:

Food Supplement Dangers Bubble Chart
Food Supplement Dangers Bubble Chart
Food Supplement Bar Chart
Food Supplement Bar Chart

Here are some highlights from these charts:

  1. You are 797,940 times more likely to die from smoking than from taking a food supplement! This is yet one more reason to stop smoking. It is the single most important think someone can do for their health.
  2. If you are in the UK, you have a 293,006 greater chance of dying from preventable medical injuries than from taking a food supplement. And spending time in a UK hospital is similar to the risk of death while on active military service in Iraq or Afghanistan!
  3. How do drugs compare to food supplements? In the UK drug risk is 62,000 times that of taking supplements.
  4. And what about herbal medicine? Herbs are often dragged out as an example of “unproved & dangerous” remedies. But according to this chart, prescription drugs are 7,750 times more risky than herbs. How often is that pointed out?
  5. Many people see motorcycle riding as risky. Yet you are almost twice as likely to die taking pharmaceutical drugs as you are from riding a motorcycle in the UK.
  6. The bar chart shows both herbs & vitamins to be super safe. Risk of death from herbs is less than 1 in 10 million. And vitamin & mineral supplements are 10 times safer. Their risk is 1 in 100 million!
  7. Compare that to preventable medical injuries in UK hospitals. Those are in the ‘dangerous’ category. They have a risk of death greater than 1 in 1,000. That’s pretty close to the danger of smoking and military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  8. UK residents are 875 times more likely to die from food poisoning or choking on food than from supplements.

Hopefully, this puts some perspective on the relative risks of your vitamins & herbs. The next time you read a report about how “dangerous” supplements are, you will know that there are much more dangerous things for your health.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

Dr. Bruce

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