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This Popular Supplement Can Send You to ER, Experts Say

Supplements are meant to do just that—supplement your diet, so you get all the nutrients you need. But some have harmful effects that can send you to the emergency department, says Susan Farrell, MD, Contributing Editor at Harvard Health. In one 10-year study, "researchers looked at surveillance data from 63 hospital emergency departments to estimate the annual number of ED visits associated with adverse effects from dietary supplements," she writes. "The authors defined 'dietary supplements' as herbal or complementary products, and vitamin or amino acid micronutrients. Read on to see which 4 products in particular sent these people to the emergency department—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.


Weight-Loss Products

Woman holding packs of pills and measuring tape in hands.

"Patients visiting the ED for symptoms related to supplement use were an average of 32 years old, and women made up more than half of all visits. Just over 10% of these visits resulted in admission to the hospital, especially among adults older than 65," said Dr. Farrell. "Weight-loss products accounted for one quarter of all single-product ED visits and disproportionately affected women." 


Sexual Enhancement Supplements

man holding a glass of water and looking at a pill in his hand while sitting on the couch

"Men were more likely to experience adverse effects from products advertised for sexual enhancement," said Dr. Farrell. Just last year, the FDA had to issue a warning about these supplements. "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to use nearly 50 male enhancement or weight loss products that have been found to contain hidden ingredients and may pose a significant health risk. The FDA purchased these products on Amazon and eBay and agency testing found that the products contain active pharmaceutical ingredients not listed on their labels, including some with ingredients found in prescription drugs. These products may cause potentially serious side effects and may interact with medications or dietary supplements a consumer is taking."

The FDA's tainted products database can help consumers identify nearly 1,000 of these potentially dangerous products.

RELATED: What Taking a Multivitamin Every Day Does To Your Body


Body-Building Supplements

Man holding a box with supplements.

Dr. Farrell also said body-building supplements sent people to the emergency department. Warns the FDA: "According to CDR Mark S. Miller, Pharm. D., a regulatory review officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), bodybuilding products that contain steroids or steroid-like substances are associated with potentially serious health risks, including liver injury." "Some of the liver injuries were life-threatening," CDR Miller says.

RELATED: Sure Signs You May Be Getting Diabetes, According to Doctors


Energy-Boosting Supplements

bodybuilding jar of nutritional supplement powder with pills on grey backdrop

"Energy-boosting products made up another 10% of these visits," said Dr. Farrell. Adds the FDA: "The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that you consult with a health care professional before using any dietary supplement. Many supplements contain ingredients that have strong biological effects, and such products may not be safe in all people."

RELATED: Doctors Warn You Not to Take Too Much of This Vitamin Right Now


What the FDA Says About Safely Choosing Supplements

woman sitting at home on laptop

"Do the claims for the product seem exaggerated or unrealistic?" asks the agency. "Are there simplistic conclusions being drawn from a complex study to sell a product? While the Web can be a valuable source of accurate, reliable information, it also has a wealth of misinformation that may not be obvious. Learn to distinguish hype from evidence-based science. Nonsensical lingo can sound very convincing. Also, be skeptical about anecdotal information from persons who have no formal training in nutrition or botanicals, or from personal testimonials (e.g. from store employees, friends, or online chat rooms and message boards) about incredible benefits or results obtained from using a product. Question these people on their training and knowledge in nutrition or medicine." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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