Harvard study shows dietary supplements associated with severe health events in children, young adults
Consumption of dietary supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building, and energy was associated with increased risk for severe medical events in children and young adults compared to consumption of vitamins, according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The study found that, compared with vitamins, these types of supplements were linked to nearly three times as many severe medical outcomes in young people.
The researchers looked at adverse event reports between January 2004 and April 2015 in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Adverse Event Reporting System on the food and dietary supplements database. They analyzed the relative risk for severe medical events such as death, disability, and hospitalization in individuals aged 0 and 25 years that were linked with the use of dietary supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building, or energy compared to vitamins, according to the study abstract.
The team found that there were 977 single-supplement-related adverse event reports for the target age group. Of those, approximately 40 percent involved severe medical outcomes, including death and hospitalization. Supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building, and energy were associated with almost three times the risk for severe medical outcomes compared to vitamins. Supplements sold for sexual function and colon cleanse were associated with approximately two times the risk for severe medical outcomes compared to vitamins.
The FDA has issued countless warnings about supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building or sport performance, sexual function, and energy, and we know these products are widely marketed to and used by young people, researchers said.
Reputable physicians do not recommend the use of the type of dietary supplements analyzed in this study, according to S. Bryn Austin, ScD, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and senior author of the study. Many of these products have been found to be adulterated with prescription pharmaceuticals, banned substances, heavy metals, pesticides, and other dangerous chemicals. And other studies have linked weight-loss and muscle-building supplements with stroke, testicular cancer, liver damage, and even death.
"How can we continue to let the manufacturers of these products and the retailers who profit from them play Russian roulette with America's youth?" Austin said in a statement. "It is well past time for policymakers and retailers to take meaningful action to protect children and consumers of all ages."