The FDA tried to impose regulations on what a claims a health supplement could make. Lobbyists for the industry framed it as a personal liberty issue and claimed that Bureaucrats were trying to rob American citizens of the freedom to take care of themselves.
In the last ten years, the dietary supplement industry as boomed. The barely regulated pills promise to help you lose weight, build muscle, live longer, and be happier. Yet, every year thousands of people are sent to the emergency room because of these supplements. And the FDA can do nothing about it.
Approximately 23,000 people a year go to the ER because of complications arising from the use of supplements or vitamins- more than the number who get hospitalized for prescription stimulants.
Certainly, a number of these cases involve worried parents bearing small children who mistakenly consumed a pill. Others are older adults who have choked on some of the larger pills. The majority of the patients though were young adults seeking to lose wake or be more productive.
“More than one quarter (28 percent) of emergency department visits for supplement-related adverse events in our study involved young adults between the ages of 20 and 34 years,” said Dr. Andrew Geller of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Weight-loss or energy products caused more than half these visits, commonly for cardiac symptoms.”
“Weight-loss or energy products were implicated in 71.8 percent of all emergency department visits for supplement-related adverse events involving palpitations, chest pain, or tachycardia (rapid heartbeat).”
The researchers looked for “cases were defined as emergency department visits for problems that the treating clinician explicitly attributed to the use of dietary supplements.” This was not always easy as doctors do not often ask what supplements a patient is taking. Moreover, the study cannot account for the long-term effects of the supplements nor the possible deaths related to these products because records of such things are rarely recorded
Supplements are not supposed to contain any active ingredients, only ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ remedies. However, the Food and Drug Administration has been warning consumers for some time that the supposedly natural supplements often contain prescription drugs not listed on the label.
“I think it should be a concern. As you know there is limited regulatory authority over these products,” said Curtis Haas, director of pharmacy for the University of Rochester Medical Center. “These are not benign products.”
In the 1990s, the FDA tried to impose regulations on what a claims a health supplement could make.
“It set off a firestorm,” said David Kessler, the FDA’s commissioner at the time. “The industry understood there were billions of dollars at stake.”
Lobbyists for the industry framed it as a personal liberty issue and claimed that Bureaucrats were trying to rob American citizens of the freedom to take care of themselves.
For this reason, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 explicitly exempts vitamins and supplements from FDA pre-market screenings.
The FDA has issued warnings about the possible dangers of these supplements but little heed is given. For instance, certain companies sell powder that is pure caffeine. One teaspoon of the stuff equates to 28 cups of coffee. Such large doses can cause heart complexations and even death.
In the last five years, world wide sales of supplements has brought in over $88 billion, much of that coming from American buyers. Within the United States, there are over 85,000 different pills, powders and elixirs for sale.
The most dangerous types of supplements, that is, the most likely to contain unlisted, unmeasured, and potentially dangerous prescription drugs are those aimed at weight loss, body building, and sexual enhancement.
For example, Fat Zero is a supposedly all natural product whose label says it is made of bee pollen, green tea, and lotus seed. In fact, the FDA has found that Fat Zero contains sibutramine- a dangerous prescription diet pill that is banned in the US because it causes heart problems.
“We would love it if people would report these adverse events to us,” said Lyndsay Meyer, a spokeswoman for the FDA. “We are unable to test and identify all products marketed as dietary supplements.”