Researchers estimate that 23,000 emergency department visits each year stem from adverse reactions to dietary supplements, the New England Journal of Medicine reported in Wednesday's issue.
An estimated 28 percent of the emergency department visits required the patient's hospitalization.
Using data from 3,667 cases collected at 63 emergency departments over nine years, the study's authors concluded that "visits commonly involve cardiovascular manifestations from weight-loss or energy products among young adults and swallowing problems … among older adults."
In a response released Wednesday, the Council for Responsible Nutrition said it estimates that the 23,000 emergency department visits is "far less than one-tenth of one percent" of consumers who use dietary supplements.
"That percentage becomes even smaller when you eliminate the products that are not dietary supplements," such as eye drops, ear drops and other over-the-counter products that the study included, said Duffy MacKay, ND, senior vice president of CRN.
The researchers said that 21.6 percent of supplement-related emergency department visits were the result of unsupervised children ingesting the products. However, 28 percent of patients were adults, 20 to 34 years old.
Reuters Health reported that the researchers said, "The number of emergency department visits attributed to supplement-related adverse events that we identified is probably an underestimation, since supplement use is underreported by patients, and physicians may not identify adverse events associated with supplements as often as they do those associated with pharmaceuticals."
Excluding the unsupervised children visits, the study found that 65.9 percent of visits "involved herbal or complementary nutritional products. Weight-loss products accounted for 25.5 percent of the supplement-related visits, while energy supplements led to 10 percent of the visits."
Of reactions that included palpitations, chest pains or irregular heartbeat, 71.8 percent were related to weight-loss or energy supplements, according to the study. More than half—58 percent—of those complaints came from 20- to 34-year-old adults.
"Young adults taking products to lose weight or increase energy should be mindful that some of these products can have effects on the heart and they shouldn't be taking them in excess," Dr. Andrew Geller of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta told Reuters Health. Geller was the chief author of the study.
Adults 65 or older suffering choking or swallowing problems accounted for 37.6 percent of supplement-related emergency department visits. In 83.1 percent of those cases, the patient was consuming micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, the researchers said.
In the CRN response, MacKay said the supplement industry has created several options for consumers who have trouble swallowing, such as liquids, gummies and powders.
"We recommend that supplement users store dietary supplement products in safe places, out of a child’s reach; discard supplements after the expiration date; and read and follow label instructions. In addition, we recommend consumers talk with their doctor or pediatrician about their family’s supplement use," MacKay said.