Warning! Dangerous Supplements

“Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Lately you may have seen articles about how supplements are dangerous.

All of the articles in the last month or so are based on a New England Journal of Medicine study. And almost all of the articles are wrong. Even Scientific American got it wrong.

Then, of course there was the Lamar Odom case. He was hospitalized after taking 10 times the dose of herbal male stimulants. In his case, most reports omitted his multi-day cocaine use, which also had to have contributed.

But back to the study. The authors claim that 23,000 people go to the ER each year because of supplements. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?

And the articles written ran with this. But they didn’t get the facts right. How did the articles get it wrong? A number of ways.

  1. Some of them confused hospital visits with deaths. There were NO deaths associated with supplements in the study. And many of these hospital visits weren’t caused by nutritional supplements, but by over the counter energy and weight loss pills.
  2. Among the reasons for hospital visits were older people with throat discomfort from trying to swallow pills. This made up 37% of the cases. Note that this isn’t a supplement problem, but a choking problem.
  3. Other visits were for unsupervised children who got into poorly stored bottles and took the pills. This made up 21% of the cases. Note to parents – keep your supplements where children can’t get them.
  4. 28% of the events were symptoms of heart palpitations, chest pain and rapid heartbeat. Almost all of these were from young people taking weight loss and energy supplements. (Hint: don’t take over-the-counter energy supplements.)
  5. Of the young people who had problems, the study doesn’t note how many took multiple doses of energy supplements or who had other energy drinks or coffee at the same time. That’s not a supplement problem, that’s a substance abuse problem.

The numbers above point out that 86% of the cases cited were not because supplements are dangerous. Of the remaining 3,220 cases, there were no hospitalizations and no deaths.  And since 150,000,000 people take supplements in the U.S., these are pretty impressive statistics.

The bottom line is this – supplements are safer than food. You are 35 times more likely to go to the emergency room from taking a prescription drug than a supplement. And you are 97,000 times more likely to die from a properly administered pharmaceutical drug than a supplement.

Where do you think the danger lies?

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger


P.S. John Baron has an excellent article on this topic. I recommend you read it here.

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