Dietary supplements promise to help you lose weight, build muscle, and boost energy, but they could also send you to the emergency room. Some 23,000 ER visits each year are attributed to everything from herbal pills to vitamins that cause cardiovascular problems, severe allergic reactions, and vomiting, particularly in young adults, according to a new study from the FDA and CDC. They tracked ER visits from 63 hospitals over 10 years, per the New York Times and Time, and found about 10% of patients needed to be hospitalized; the study didn't review whether any deaths occurred. Though prescription drugs send 30 times as many people to the ER annually, most are older adults; 28% of people who visited the ER because of supplements were 20 to 34, and half of those visits involved weight-loss or energy aids, per NBC News.
Dietary supplements aren't required to carry warning labels about side effects, don't require FDA approval, and are generally "considered safe until proved otherwise," notes the Times. "The system has failed," says a Harvard professor who calls the findings "disheartening." "It's failing to protect consumers from very serious harms." Industry officials claim half of all Americans use dietary supplements, meaning 23,000 ER visits represents a sliver of users. Study authors, however, say their figure may be on the low side since they only tallied cases where a doctor explicitly said dietary supplement usage was responsible for a patient's symptoms. (Supplements may contain this dangerous chemical.)