Side effects of dietary supplements commonly used by teens for weight loss, or to boost energy, may cause serious and potentially life-threatening injuries, according to the findings of new research.
In a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health on June 5, Harvard researchers found that many weight loss dietary supplements were linked to cases of severe medical events involving teens, including reports that resulted in death, disability, and hospitalization.
Researchers studied adverse event report data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Adverse Event Reporting System between January 2004 and April 2015. The reports were focused on the food and dietary supplements database and occurred among individuals up to 25 years old.
Researchers found 977 dietary supplement-related adverse events, which included death, disability, life-threatening events, hospitalization, emergency room visits, and some required intervention to prevent disability.
According to the findings, teens and young adults who took supplements for muscle building, energy, and weight loss faced three times the risk of severe side effects when compared to the use of vitamins.
Roughly 40% of those who experienced side effects had to go to the emergency room, were hospitalized, suffered disability or death. The remaining consumers had visits to the doctor’s office for treatment.
Typically, the supplement contained dangerous ingredients not listed on the label or users were combining them with other supplements or prescription medications that can result in harmful combinations. Many underage users were taking supplements that were expressly indicated for use in people 18 and older only.
Researchers also noted that the actual rate of adverse events could be significantly higher than the data indicates since many patients who experience symptoms may not understand the symptoms are linked to the supplements they are taking.
While many supplements can contain illegal ingredients, the majority of supplements are safe, the researchers noted. However, it can be difficult to determine which ones are safe and which are not. The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way prescription drugs are regulated. The agency is only allowed to regulate a dietary supplement if it becomes a threat to public health.
For that reason, many health experts advise consumers to consult a doctor before taking dietary supplements, especially when taking them with other supplements and/or medications.
Similarly, researchers emphasize new regulations are needed to reduce access to some ingredients and dietary supplements to prevent consumption among children, teens, and young adults.