Dietary supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from 7 percent a decade ago, according to an analysis by a national network of liver specialists. The research included only the most severe cases of liver damage referred to a representative group of hospitals around the country, and the investigators said they were undercounting the actual number of cases.
While many patients recover once they stop taking the supplements and receive treatment, a few require liver transplants or die because of liver failure. Naïve teenagers are not the only consumers at risk, the researchers said. Many are middle-aged women who turn to dietary supplements that promise to burn fat or speed up weight loss.
“It’s really the Wild West,” said Dr. Herbert L. Bonkovsky, the director of the liver, digestive and metabolic disorders laboratory at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N.C. “When people buy these dietary supplements, it’s anybody’s guess as to what they’re getting…”
Americans spend an estimated $32 billion on dietary supplements every year, attracted by unproven claims that various pills and powders will help them lose weight, build muscle and fight off everything from colds to chronic illnesses. About half of Americans use dietary supplements, and most of them take more than one product at a time.
Dr. Victor Navarro, the chairman of the hepatology division at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, said that while liver injuries linked to supplements were alarming, he believed that a majority of supplements were generally safe. Most of the liver injuries tracked by a network of medical officials are caused by prescription drugs used to treat things like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, he said.
…A federal law enacted in 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, prevents the Food and Drug Administration from approving or evaluating most supplements before they are sold. Usually the agency must wait until consumers are harmed before officials can remove products from stores. Because the supplement industry operates on the honor system, studies show, the market has been flooded with products that are adulterated, mislabeled or packaged in dosages that have not been studied for safety.
The new research found that many of the products implicated in liver injuries were bodybuilding supplements spiked with unlisted steroids, and herbal pills and powders promising to increase energy and help consumers lose weight…
The F.D.A. estimates that 70 percent of dietary supplement companies are not following basic quality control standards that would help prevent adulteration of their products. Of about 55,000 supplements that are sold in the United States, only 170 — about 0.3 percent — have been studied closely enough to determine their common side effects, said Dr. Paul A. Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an expert on dietary supplements.
RTFA for more and more details. One of the important points needing to be repeated is that just because a substance is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s doing a damned thing for you. Unless there is peer-reviewed science with positive results you probably shouldn’t be consuming it.
Cripes, I still wouldn’t touch half the crap that has managed FDA approval – with a dozen advisories about side-effects.