According to findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, dietary supplement-related health problems have led to 23,000 emergency room visits annually. Most cases involved young adults with heart problems taking weight loss and energy enhancement supplements.
Some experts see this as a failure of the government to properly educate the masses on the downside of taking dietary supplements.
"What we're seeing from this study is that the system has failed. It's failing to protect consumers from very serious harms," said Dr. Pieter Cohen, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
Dietary supplements are meant to augment a person's daily intake of vitamins and minerals, especially those who don't get enough nutrients from natural sources.
Supplements are supposed to help keep consumers healthy. What suddenly made them the enemy?
Many dietary supplements are true to their claims, providing the health benefits they are supposed to and are perfectly safe. Taking vitamins is in fact proven to reduce the risk of having certain cancers.
The danger, doctors warn, lies in taking too much of a good thing.
In his presentation during the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting, Dr. Tim Byers of the University of Colorado said that taking too much supplements can increase a person's risk for cancer.
"There's enough evidence along these lines that we should really consider better regulation of these nutritional supplements," Byers said.
He added that the researchers still don't understand why supplements could have this adverse effect, emphasizing the need for further research on the matter.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) also said that dietary supplements, just like other medications, can induce side effects. But unlike other drugs, supplement makers don't need to conduct research and clinical trials to ensure the safety of their product. Many manufacturers also don't have evidence that their supplements provide the benefits they claim they do.
An even bigger concern is that most dietary supplements can be bought without prescription, thus overuse can go unnoticed.
"Used properly, certain dietary supplements may help reduce the risk of some diseases, reduce discomfort caused by certain drugs or conditions, or simply make you feel better," ACS said, explaining how supplements can improve a person's quality of life. "But taking dietary supplements can be risky, especially for people who are getting cancer treatment."
Patients are advised to only take supplements recommended by their doctors and to report any side effects experienced while taking supplements.
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