Could Your Dietary Supplements Be Poisoning You?

Vitamins and supplements may sound like a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, but they could be poisoning more users than in previous years.

A study in the Journal of Medical Toxicology found that the rate of supplement-related reports to poison control centers increased by more than 49 percent from 2005 to 2012.

This increased followed an 8.8 percent decrease from 2002 to 2005, a trend that was affected by the FDA's ban on ma huang products, which was linked to serious side effects like heart attack and stroke.

Roughly 44 percent of supplement-related calls to poison control were caused by miscellaneous dietary supplement ingestion, followed by botanicals at 32 percent and hormonal supplements—including sleep aid vitamins and male hormone boosters—at 15 percent.

The study found that most of the calls to poison control centers were the results of children under 6 years old unintentionally ingesting these dietary supplements, but serious medical outcomes accounted for nearly 5 percent of all calls. Of those cases requiring serious medical care or treatment in a health care facility, 95 percent of people were 6 years of age or older.

Botanical compound yohimbe was among the causes of most poison control calls. This supplement ingredient—often used as male sexual enhancement supplement—may cause issues like heart attack, rapid heart beat or kidney failure.

Energy products were another major source of toxic calls as they often are loaded with a mixture of caffeine and other supplement ingredients. These products, available in a variety of forms, have been linked to abnormal heart beat, rapid breathing and seizures.

"Our results demonstrate the success of the FDA ban on ma huang products and the need for FDA regulation on yohimbe and energy products in the USA," the study's authors wrote.

This overall increase in the number of calls to poison control related to dietary supplements is likely the result of the increased exposure of these products as 'wellness supplements'. The increase of weight loss and bodybuilding supplements and vitamins has led people to ingest these products without consulting a doctor or studying potential side effects.

One Australian woman died in June from protein overdose as she was preparing for an upcoming bodybuilding competition, as Pop Culture previously reported. 25-year-old Meegan Hefford was consuming various protein supplements to enhance her muscles, but she complained to her mother about feeling tired and "weird."

When Hefford was found unconscious on the floor at her home, she was rushed to the hospital. After two days, Hefford was diagnosed with urea cycle disorder, which blocks the body from breaking down protein properly, but it was too late. The amount of ammonia in her blood and the fluid in her brain left her brain dead.


Along with urea cycle disorder, "intake of bodybuilding supplements" was named by coroners as one of Hefford's causes of death.

"I know there are people other than Meegan who have ended up in hospital because they've overloaded on supplements," Hefford's mother, Michelle White, told Perth Now. "The sale of these products needs to be more regulated."