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The Dangers of Over the Counter Diet Supplements

Over the last 10 years, diet supplements have become more prevalent than ever as countless TV and magazine ads tout the benefits of these “weight loss pills.”  Surprisingly, the FDA does not currently require these supplements to be tested before they are marketed and sold. Instead, the FDA relies on the honesty of the manufacturer to report any adverse events linked to the supplements.  It is only when enough adverse reactions are reported that the FDA can step in and remove these supplements from store shelves.

So just how common are adverse reactions to these supplements?  A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that over 23,000 emergency room visits each year are attributed to dietary supplements and/or drug interactions and, of that number, almost 10% (2,154 of those emergency room visits) needed to be admitted to the hospital.  More than half of these visits were females under the age of 34, which furthermore did not include cases related to energy drinks.

A few quick facts:

  • 28% of these cases were adults between 20-34
  • 21% of these cases were unsupervised children ingesting adult supplements
  • 25% of visits were related to herbal or nutritional weight loss supplements
  • 10% of visits were related to herbal or nutritional energy supplements

Depending on the supplement taken and the person’s unique medical history, adverse reactions can include: swelling, redness, hives, difficulty swallowing, chest pain and heart palpitations.

Although the clever advertising and packaging may claim that the supplement can help you “lose weight” or “increase energy”, it is important to always consult with your physician, as direct by the FDA, before taking any over the counter supplements as even some herbal supplements can interfere with prescription medications.  If diet and exercise are not enough, you and your physician can discuss a safe and healthy supplement program based on your goals and medical history.

In the event of an allergic reaction, knowing your options is important

When to go to an Urgent Care: For mild allergic reactions that include swelling, hives or redness, GoHealth Urgent Care’s team of providers is able to treat this reaction using specific medications or injections. Use the widget below to find a location nearest you!

When to go to the Emergency Room: If you are having difficulty breathing, swallowing, chest pain or heart palpitations, you should go to your nearest emergency room as these are signs of a more severe allergic reaction.

If you need to report a problem with a supplement or an adverse drug interaction, contact the FDA directing here. You can also find more information on the dangers of certain medications here.


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