August 15, 2016
382 Supplement Safety [15 August 2016]
Over the past year there have been several major news reports in The United States and Canada questioning the regulation, safety and efficacy of health supplements. The first was CBC’s Marketplace which reported in November 2015 that certain fish oils, vitamin C, and protein shakes did not meet their label claims. However after retesting it was discovered that the original lab tests were incorrect and there were in fact no problems with the products.
In March 2013 the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on adverse events from supplements. Since 2008 the FDA has required supplement manufacturers to report any adverse effects from their products. Between 2008 and 2011 there were 6,307 serious (e.g. requiring a hospital visit) adverse event reports (AERs) for supplements (average 1,577 a year). The same report estimated over half (68%) of Americans use supplements, so this is amazingly low from 157 million supplement users over 4 years (1/100,000 users). During the same period there were 1,736,437 AERs from pharmaceutical drugs, with fewer (only 48%) of Americans using them (average 434,100 per year or 1/253 users). In 2008 alone there were 26,517 AERs for vaccines and 526,527 AERs for approved pharmaceutical drugs.
The nature of the supplement AER’s were generally less serious than for drugs. 21% were for accidental ingestion by children (whose parents took them to the hospital as a safety precaution). Of the remaining AERs, 35% were from energy and weight loss products. Many of these contain caffeine which resulted in heart palpitations, prompting a visit to the hospital where they were examined and sent home. Deaths from supplements are very rare, less than one a year, in contrast with pharmaceuticals which kill over 100,000 Americans each year – more than from motor vehicle accidents!
While this data shows the overwhelming safety of supplements compared with drugs, I don’t want to leave the impression that supplements should be used carelessly. Balance is essential with many nutrients, especially vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Choose quality reputable brands, use only what you need, do your own research, and get advice from knowledgeable professionals.
CBC MarketPlace documentary
Health Impact News: GAO report critique
Mercola: Consumer Reports article critique
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.