You may have seen the recent news headline. It reads: "Supplements Cause More Than 23,000 ER Visits a Year." It sounds awful. How could something being promoted as "safe" cause all these emergency room visits?
Well, that's the number the researchers came up with when they surveyed 63 hospitals and estimated from there. So it's highly suspect. Also for some reason they EXCLUDED the actual data reported to the FDA for adverse effects.
The headline also doesn't tell you that over 90% of these ER patients were discharged without serious complications. And it doesn't tell you that this 23,000 number represents only 0.015% of all supplement users. You know supplements are safe. But the media doesn't get it.
If the media would do even a day's worth of research — instead of reporting on what they're spoon-fed, they'd find some startling facts. For instance, in 2012, the FDA says that hospitals reported only 3,249 events from supplements. They might also find out that even their grossly overestimated 23,000 is less than 5% of what's reported for prescription drugs.
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But let's give the media the benefit of the doubt. Even if 23,000 is accurate, search the Internet for unusual reasons people go to the ER. You'll find that people will go to the ER for anything. One person went because he couldn't find his pulse. Another took her baby because "he poops every time he eats." And my personal favorite: "I hear spiders singing." True stories.
Let's get real. If you look at the FDA statistics, it's rare for more than one or two people to die from supplements in any given year. These deaths are almost always due to weight loss, energy, or sexual enhancement supplements. Many of these contain illegal substances that no reputable company would ever use. As long as you stay away from these, you know that the supplements you take are extremely safe. In fact, you're more likely to die from food contamination than you are from supplements.
Dan Fabricant, PhD is the executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association. He also was the Director of the Division of Dietary Supplement Programs at FDA for three years.
He was very critical of this study. He points to the fact that the FDA data was ignored and said, "The facts are that adverse events from supplements are extremely low given their widespread usage...."
I don't know if the news media is lazy and doesn't want to do the research or if they're bought and paid for by the drug companies. Both are bad reasons for the type of reporting they do. When you see these headlines bashing supplements, keep reading. More often than not, the real truth is buried deep within the story. But telling everyone that supplements are safe won't sell newspapers. So don't expect the headlines to change anytime soon.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.