The danger of dietary supplements for teens: Harvard study reveals hundreds of young people have been sickened or hospitalized by weight loss and muscle-building products in 10 years
- A team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed 10 years of FDA data on reactions to supplements
- They found young people who take ‘enhancement’ products are three times more likely to get sick than those who take vitamins
- Many have also suffered reactions to sexual enhancement pills and colon cleanses
From weight loss tea to protein shakes, the wellness business is booming – and teens are one of the biggest targets.
But a new study suggest people under the age of 25 are particularly vulnerable to serious side effects from dietary supplements that promote slimming, muscle building or energy boosts.
The research, led by a team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found young people who take ‘enhancement’ products are three times more likely to get sick than their peers who take vitamins.
‘The FDA has issued countless warnings about supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building or sport performance, sexual function, and energy, and we know these products are widely marketed to and used by young people,’ said lead author Flora Or, a researcher with Harvard’s center for preventing eating disorders.
The research, led by a team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found young people who take ‘enhancement’ products are three times more likely to get sick than those who take vitamins
‘So what are the consequences for their health? That’s the question we wanted to answer.’
The study, published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health, was based on the FDA’s own data of serious medical reactions to food or dietary supplements between 2004 and 2015.
They pooled information on which supplements were linked to hospital visits, long-term disability, deaths, and other types of sickness in people under 25 years old.
Almost 1,000 (977) reactions were recorded in the database, 40 percent of which were severe.
Reactions were most common among young people using weight loss, muscle building, or energy supplements, as opposed to vitamins – three times more common, in fact.
Sexual boosters and colon cleanses (or, ‘detoxes’) were twice as likely to cause severe medical reactions compared to vitamins.
The findings come a day after the FDA warned vinpocetine, a common ingredient in unregulated weight loss and memory-boosting supplements in the US, could cause miscarriages and birth defects if taken by young women.
Doctors do not recommend weight loss, energy-boosting or muscle-building supplements, senior author S. Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said.
Lack of research aside, most are untested and unregulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, allowing some supplements to seep onto US shelves with ingredients that increase the risks of diseases or even death.
‘How can we continue to let the manufacturers of these products and the retailers who profit from them play Russian roulette with America’s youth?’ Dr Austin said.
‘It is well past time for policymakers and retailers to take meaningful action to protect children and consumers of all ages.’