The New York Times takes a look at the unregulated dietary supplement industry, and finds some scary conclusions: Dietary aids are responsible for 20% of drug-induced liver injuries in hospitals—up from 7% a decade ago—and that figure only includes the most severe cases. While most patients recover, some die of liver failure, and others, like Christopher Herrera, are put on the liver transplant list. Herrera, 17, turned up at a hospital last year with his chest, face, and eyes "almost highlighter yellow" after taking a "fat burning" supplement, his doctor says. "It's really the Wild West," adds another. "When people buy these dietary supplements, it's anybody’s guess as to what they're getting."
Though doctors saved Herrera's liver, he can't play sports and must visit his doctor regularly—and some aren't so lucky. Still, Americans spend $32 billion on dietary supplements each year. And while doctors maintain that the majority of supplements are safe, the link to liver damage in herbal pills marketed as fat burners, energy boosters, weight-loss products, and bodybuilding supplements is alarming. "When a product is regulated, you know the benefits and the risks and you can make an informed decision about whether or not to take it," says one. "With supplements ... it's just a black box."