You’ve probably taken a stroll down the vitamin aisle in your local pharmacy and noticed that there’s a supplement for every health issue under the sun, and then some. But if grabbing a cure over the counter seems a little too good to be true, you may want to heed your gut’s warning.
Supplements Aren’t Regulated, So We Don’t Know What’s In Them
Numerous scientific investigations have repeatedly proved that the supplements you’re shelling out hard-earned cash for may have a bit more in their plastic bottles than what’s printed on them. In fact, the FDA clearly states on their web site, “Unless the products are intended to treat or prevent a disease […] the FDA does not require companies to conduct clinical trials of dietary supplements."
So what does this mean for us? "Consumers have no way to know that what's in the label is what's actually in the bottle or box," S. Bryn Austin, professor of behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained to Business Insider. "There are many dubious companies out there that are willing to take a risk with consumers’ health and their lives."
The Scary Side Effects
According to a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, there was an estimated 23,005 supplement-related emergency room visits between 2004 and 2013. To make matters worse, between 2000 and 2012, the annual rate of harmful exposures to dietary supplements (from miscellaneous dietary supplements, botanicals, hormonal products, and other supplements, respectively) increased by 166 percent in total, with 70 percent of the exposures occurring in kids under six years old.
More recently, the FDA recalled all liquid drugs produced by PharmaTech and distributed by Leader Brand, Major Pharmaceuticals, and Rugby Laboratories. These drugs were ingested by children and infants, and were possibly contaminated with Burkholderia cepacia, a bacterium that is oft-resistant to many antibiotics and can cause respiratory infections.
The real Rx: Eating a balanced diet of whole foods rich in protein, healthy fats, fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals is your best bet. But if your diet requires a bit more supplementation via OTC tablets, chat with your doctor and check out the 21 Things You Don't Know About Vitamins before you buy.