The mainstream media recently reported on a study claiming dietary supplements “send” 23,000 people to emergency departments each year.
You can always count on the lame stream media to report faulty research when it comes to dietary supplements. The facts and the quality of the science don’t matter as long as the study “finds” some criticism of natural health approaches.
Media outlets such as ABC, CBS, the New York Times and USA Today all ran the bogus story. And is it any surprise? Just look at all the drugs ads that keep these “old media” mouthpieces afloat in the first place.
So is it any wonder these media outlets didn’t mention the millions of adverse drug reactions and tens of thousands of deaths each year from prescription drugs…even when “taken as prescribed”? I know about these deadly adverse reactions all too well from my consulting practice in forensic medicine, pathology and toxicology.
I don’t take this study attacking supplements seriously and you shouldn’t either. Here’s why…
It’s not a simple matter of “cause and effect”
Yes — people who take supplements sometimes go to the emergency room. But considering the fact that tens of millions of people take supplements — it’s inevitable some of them will end up going to an emergency room.
Plus, you can’t assume taking supplements is the reason for the ER visit. In other words, visiting the emergency room while taking supplements is not the same thing as visiting the emergency due to taking supplements.
Many people who take supplements also take prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which may interact with each other. Of course supplements are natural products, so they’re generally safer and less potent than drugs. But the supplement always takes the blame for any interaction, although the actual effect is typically due to the drug’s potency and toxicity.
Actually, it’s remarkable there are so few people who take supplements and also go to an emergency room — just 23,000 a year in the U.S.! Compare that low number to the millions of men and women who take prescription — and even over-the-counter drugs — and wind up in the ER each year.
The report stated many people who take supplements don’t mention it to the ER doctor. The patient may well omit that information because he or she knows the supplements is irrelevant to their complaints.
In any case, the majority of these people who end up in the ER aren’t there because of a legitimate, well-regarded vitamin…
Questionable supplements account for half of ER visits
Turns out, at least half of the people in the study who took supplements and landed in the ER actually took “energy” and “weight loss” supplements. And that finding explains a lot.
I often warn about the toxicity of these supplements. In addition, I recently reported that weight loss supplements are ineffective. It seems my recommendation bears repeating: Never, ever take an energy or weight-loss supplement.
So — right off the top — we can cut the number of legitimate ER visits at least in half.
Now, let’s look even deeper at the data….
Turns out, fewer than 10 percent of the 23,000 patients who took supplements were even admitted to the hospital. The rest were just sent home.
Plus, I bet this 10 percent were all the energy and weight loss supplements abusers. But even assuming that 10 percent were random patients, it means just 5 percent of sensible supplement users were even admitted to the hospital.
Of course, we have no idea whether this 5 percent of patients who took supplements and came to the ER were even seriously ill — or even if it was due to the supplements.
The mainstream media made all kinds of wild speculations. But the fact is, we don’t even know how many (if any) patients died or even why they were admitted.
The “Wild West” of nutritional supplements isn’t so wild after all
Some reporters claimed these ER visits happen because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements. They often liken the supplement industry as the lawless “Wild West.” But there are at least two problems with these ignorant statements.
First, the FDA does regulate supplements under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1993.
Second, this data in no way demonstrates that regulation (or lack of regulation) has anything to do with it. Drugs are highly regulated. Yet they cause millions of ER visits for adverse events and tens of thousands of deaths each year, according to real data reported by CDC and others.
I also wonder about the role of Obamacare in this new report.
The ever-increasing cost of the “Affordable” Care Act
Obamacare was supposed to fix the emergency room crisis in America. But instead of fixing it, Obamacare only made the problem worse — a lot worse.
Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, too many patients visited the ER for routine, non-emergency issues. They basically used and abused the ER as a “walk-in” outpatient clinic.
Obamacare proponents claimed these patients only used ERs as outpatient clinics because they didn’t have health insurance and access to regular healthcare. And Obamacare was supposed to fix the problem. They claimed patients wouldn’t keep using the ER for non-emergency issues if we forced everyone to acquire comprehensive healthcare insurance.
But now, even with Obamacare in full effect, it appears even more people still can’t be bothered to use regular outpatient clinics for everyday health issues. They still visit the ER for coughs and sniffles. And, apparently, they even visit the ER for some adverse reactions to energy and weight-loss supplements they should have never taken in the first place.
I finally found access to an Appendix about this study restricted to the New England Journal of Medicine’s own website. It exposes, in detail, the tremendous flaws and unscientific speculations of this study as another prime example of the double standards in medical publishing. So, I am doing more analysis on this newly discovered background and will give you more details in an upcoming Daily Dispatch.
In the end, this story gives us another example of all-around lousy reporting, misusing data, employing faulty logic, and speculating on unwarranted conclusions. In fact, it makes we think we should hand out a Pulitzer Prize for monumentally poor medical reporting. But in this case, we should spell it “P-U-litzer” because it stinks so badly.
- “Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements,” New England Journal of Medicine, 2015; 373:1531-1540