23,000 ER Visits Linked to Dietary Supplements

Dear Living Well Daily Reader,

Just days before a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that over 23,000 emergency visits per year are attributed to adverse events caused by dietary supplements, Lamar Odom, former NBA star and husband to Khloe Kardashian, was found unconscious and suffering from kidney failure after reportedly ingesting herbal supplements.

Not a good look for the supplement industry.

According to the study, the most common ER visits after supplement ingestion were by 20-34-year-olds, and were attributed to weight loss or energy products. Heart palpitations, chest pains, and rapid heartbeat were the most frequently reported adverse events.

Among adults over age 65 years old, the most frequent reason for visiting the ER after supplement ingestion was because the pills were too big — choking or pill-induced dysphagia caused over 37 percent of visits.

(I know on more than one occasion, my mother has had to return supplements she bought because they were too difficult to swallow. In fact, when I mentioned a new product we were working on, the very first thing she said to me was, “Make sure the capsules are small!”)

While at first glance, 23,000 ER visits does seem like a lot, to put things into perspective, it’s just a fraction of the number of hospital visits tied to prescription drugs. They have been linked to over 30 times as many ER visits.

And prescription drugs, when used properly, have been reported to kill over 106,000 people per year.

The total number of deaths linked to dietary supplements in 2013? Ninety-two.

Still, just because something is labeled as natural does not mean it is inherently safe. And unfortunately, there are some shady manufacturers in the supplement industry that sell products with questionable ingredients.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe when choosing supplements:

  1. Always read the label. Check to make sure there are no ingredients you are allergic to, and follow the dosing recommendations or ask your doctor how much to take. If you have any health conditions or are taking other supplements or medications, you’ll want to do your own research and/or talk with a knowledgeable health care provider about potential interactions.
  1. Be cautious with weight loss and energy products. These products often contain caffeine (natural sources of caffeine include green tea, gotu kola, and guarana). If you’re not sure if the product contains caffeine, ask the manufacturer. If they can’t give you a straight answer or provide documentation, don’t use the product.Some weight loss products are spiked with stimulants or weight loss drugs. Be very careful when choosing a weight loss product. Be sure you trust the manufacturer, and don’t hesitate to ask them for certificates of analysis.
  1. If you have difficulty swallowing pills, look for soft gels rather than capsules or tablets. They tend to be easier to swallow. Multivitamin and mineral tablets are usually the largest pills and the hardest to swallow. Supplements are more frequently being made available in drink mixes or chewable or gummy versions, which may be better options for you.If you get a new product and you think the capsules may be too large, don’t chance it! It’s not worth the choking risk. Return the product and look for another option.
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. While supplement sellers typically cannot answer medical questions, they should be more than willing to answer any question about their products, such as what the ingredients are and where they are from, how the product is manufactured, and what testing has been done on the product. If you can find a company that performs independent testing on their product in addition to what the manufacturer does, that’s even better.
  1. Lastly, use common sense when trying new products. Though supplements have a good track record for safety, everyone’s biochemistry is different and may react to things differently. If a supplement produces any side effects, discontinue it. It doesn’t matter how benign or safe a product is promoted to be. If it doesn’t agree with you, don’t use it.

To living well,

Jasmine LeMaster
Health Researcher

P.S. Here at Living Well, we take the safety and quality of our products very seriously. We personally inspect every manufacturer we use and work only with manufacturers that have been certified for GMP compliance by NSF or the Natural Products Association. We also request documentation for raw materials, ensure traceability, inspect and receive certificates of analysis for every lot of product, and also send out our products for independent testing.

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