This may seem like alarming news for anyone who takes supplements: Calls to poison centers about dietary supplements increased by almost 50 percent from 2005 to 2012, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology.
However, it's worth looking closely at the details from this report, which examined data in the National Poison Data System from 2000 to 2012. In the 274,998 calls about dietary supplement exposures, a whopping 70 percent were for children younger than 6 years old. Common symptoms included a rapid heart rate, vomiting, nausea, and dizziness.
What's more, 99 percent of these exposures in kids below age 6 were unintentional.
Henry Spiller, study author and director of Central Ohio Poison Control, said the most common ways for young kids to accidentally ingest supplements are when they are exploring their houses or when their parents accidentally mistake them for other medication. So he said parents need to use extreme caution when leaving supplements around children.
"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," Spiller said. "But they need to be treated as if they were a medicine. Don't leave them out on the counter."
Are supplements safe?
Kids under the age of 6 weren't the only ones who needed the poison control center after ingesting dietary supplements. Among older kids and even adults that phoned in about dietary supplements, 21 percent reported negative effects.
During the 13-year period of the study, there were 34 cases of people dying of exposure to dietary supplements, six of which were associated with ma huang, three of which had to do with homeopathic agents and one with yohimbe. The study has named ma huang, yohimbe, homeopathic agents and energy drinks as the most dangerous supplements out there.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition, which is the leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry, said that homeopathic agents are not dietary supplements and are regulated differently. They also shared this statement: "More than 170 million Americans take dietary supplements each year, and the responsible industry is invested in bringing safe and quality products to meet this demand. We recommend that consumers store dietary supplement products in safe places, out of a child's reach. In addition, we recommend that consumers talk with their doctor or pediatrician about their family's supplement use."
According to the FDA's website, the agency "regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering 'conventional' foods and drug products. Unless the products are intended to treat or prevent a disease, this means the FDA does not require companies to conduct clinical trials of dietary supplements."
Though the FDA does not comment on specific studies, they are reviewing the findings. Meanwhile, the agency also recommends storing supplements out of sight from children and also informing your doctor if you are taking any.