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Are vitamin danger reports misleading? – Issue

A paper published in late July 2017 in the Journal of Medical Toxicology triggered dozens of media articles with headlines linking dietary supplements to increasing numbers of poison control reports. Here are just a few of the headlines:

  • 275,000 calls to poison control centers for dietary supplement exposures, study finds
  • Calls to poison centers about supplements up 50%, especially among kids
  • Study finds a major uptick in calls to poison control centers over dietary supplements
  • Spike in calls to poison control centers over dietary supplements
  • People Call Poison Control Every 24 Minutes Because of Dietary Supplements
  • Dietary Supplement Poisoning on the rise in children
  • Popular Herbal Supplement May Be Harmful to Kids
  • U.S. kids overdosing on dietary supplements

 

However, the headlines of these and other related articles often do not accurately reflect the content of the articles or the related studies. To fully understand this topic, you are encouraged to go beyond the headlines and read the entirety of several articles. As you are reading the articles, keep in mind the following matters that appear to differ from the impression given by the headlines:

  • The percentage increase is presented as recent, when it was actually for the period of 2000 through 2012.
  • The context of the statement “Seventy percent of the dietary supplement exposures were in children younger than age 6”, doesn’t include the fact that dietary supplements account for just 1.8% of all substance exposures reported to Poison Control Centers.
  • In 2015, there were actually no deaths of young children due to dietary supplements.
  • The study being discussed included the misuse of herbal sexual enhancement pills and energy drinks to inflate the poison control reports assigned to dietary supplements for teens and adults.
  • The vast majority of dietary supplement calls placed to poison control centers were simply inquiries and did not involve any adverse events. However, any call made to a poison control center is considered “exposures,” regardless of whether an adverse event occurred or not.
  • A concerned statement from the dietary supplement industry points out that the referenced report omits saying that “Adverse events from supplements are extremely low given their widespread usage, and most of these are the result of three factors: accidents, people not consulting with their doctor, or misuse of a product combined with other health factors.”
  • An article noted that there was a 47% increase in exposures, but did not include that the dietary supplement industry actually increased by 77% during same period of time.

 

ISSUE: Accepting the impression of the headlines of articles related to recent dietary supplement reports to poison control center statistics.

AHHA strives to maintain a neutral position on issues. For those interested in this month’s issue, the following articles have been selected to offer you some apparently Pro and Con viewpoints to get you started on your research.

PRO
Calls to poison centers about supplements up 50%, especially among kids (7/24/17)
by Victoria Knight
CNN 

33rd Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (12/22/16)
American Association of Poison Control Centers

An Increase in Dietary Supplement Exposures Reported to US Poison Control Centers (7/24/17)
PubMed

CON
New Poison Control Center Study Has Serious Limitations, Say Dietary Supplement Industry Officials (7/27/17)
by Jennifer Prince
Nutritional Outlook

Supplements Killing Children? (7/26/17)
Alliance for Natural Health USA

Industry suggests latest supplement headline is a poison-pen report (7/26/17)
by Rick Polito
New Hope Network

We encourage you to post your comments. You are also invited to share additional resources you have found relating to this issue.

To review past ISSUES, visit the Special Update eReport Archives.

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