Researchers Caution Health Risks Linked with Youth Taking Certain Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements are more common than ever, with both adults and children getting extra nutrient support from bottles of vitamin supplements or through extra-fortified food and drinks.  These supplements could be used not only for basic health support as well as weight loss, muscle building, brain function, and energy. 

Unfortunately, while these supplements can provide benefit, a new study also warns that some might also be associated with a higher risk for some severe medical events in children and younger adults. This study revealed that while a standard multivitamin is likely harmless when taken according to age-related dosage suggestions, products specifically designed for weight loss, muscle building, and energy support could increase severe medical outcomes threefold.  

According to lead study author Flora Or, “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.” 

This, of course, makes it all the more important to ensure that these products are safe for the very population that is using them. Indeed, the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders researcher asserts that discerning the potential consequences of these products is what prompted the research. 

And with that, the study looked at US Food and Drug Administration Adverse Event Reporting System reports and food and supplement databases taken between January 2004 and April 2015.  The study aimed to analyze the relative risk for developing severe medical events—including death, disability, and hospitalization—among individuals between age 0 and 25.

Sure enough, the study found that there could be as many as 977 single-supplement-related adverse event report for this age group. Of these instances, roughly 40 percent involved severe medical outcomes.  Specifically, supplements marketed for the purposes of weight loss, muscle building, and energy were found to be associated with three times the risk for developing serious medical outcomes. Also, supplements marketed for sexual function and colon cleansing were found to be associated to at least twice the risk for these severe medical outcomes (again, when compared to standard multivitamins). 

The study has been published, online, in the Journal of Adolescent Health.