A Journal of Medical Toxicology study of calls made to poison control centers over the past 12 years finds one herbal supplement to be particularly concerning. Of those calls, the ones with the biggest proportion of serious medical outcomes had to do with yohimbe tree bark extract, NBC News reports. The extract, which comes from an evergreen tree found in Africa, has been used there for centuries to treat various maladies, but it's most popular as a libido booster for both men and women—though there's little evidence of its efficacy. It can cause changes to heartbeat rhythm and even kidney failure in kids. Overall, the study found that between 2005 and 2012 there was a 49.3% increase in calls to poison control centers related to dietary supplements, including vitamins, energy drinks, homeopathic products, herbal medicines, and some hormonal treatments, Ars Technica reports.
The senior author of the study notes that products classified as supplements aren't considered drugs, and thus don't go through the FDA approval process (and may not be stored in childproof containers). In the case of yohimbe, the FDA doesn't recommend its use, as it's easy to overdose. Even the recommended dosage can lead to problems such as high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat, and overdose can lead to seizures and even death. The study found 1,818 cases of yohimbe exposure reported between 2002 and 2012, 78% of them in children. Of all the cases, 512 were serious; 3.2% of patients were admitted to a critical care unit, and one died. "Sometimes, parents don't think of keeping dietary supplements away from their kids, because they're not medicines prescribed by the doctor. People think of them as natural," another lead author tells CNN. "But they need to be treated as if they were a medicine. Don't leave them out on the counter. Keep them out of reach." (This herbal "detox" sent a woman to the ER.)