I often hear from readers whose doctors warn them about the supposed dangers of taking nutritional supplements, which always leaves me scratching my head. Nutritional supplements have an absolutely fantastic safety record. Especially when compared to the dismal record of prescription drugs, such as cholesterol-lowering statins, which doctors dole out like candy.
In fact, according to the latest annual report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were ZERO deaths from nutritional supplements in 2018 (the most-recent year analyzed).
Of course, I couldn’t find news of that report anywhere in the mainstream press. I had to hunt it down in a medical journal called Clinical Toxicology. And even then, it was buried on pages 1,412 and 1,413! (Years ago, I published my own research in this technical journal.)
But really, it should have made headlines everywhere, as it was quite an outstanding accomplishment. Especially considering the vast (and ever-growing) number of Americans who take supplements every day.
Remember, statisticians can manipulate and play games with findings about disease risks and complications. But they can’t fudge actual deaths—especially deaths linked to deadly substances.
In fact, experts in my field of forensic medicine investigate by law any death potentially linked to a drug, chemical, supplement, or other substance. And if we find that a substance did indeed cause a death, we must report it to poison control centers. Then, the national organization—the American Association of Poison Control Centers—keeps track of them all.
So, this new finding really is remarkable. And it shows there were zero deaths linked to any type of supplement, including:
- Amino acids
- Fish oils, which contain omega-3 fatty acids
- Herbs and botanicals, such as turmeric
- Minerals, such as selenium and zinc
- Vitamins, such as the B family of vitamins, C, D, and E
There weren’t even any deaths attributed to any type of botanical (not all of which I recommend), including the supposedly “dangerous” herbs like black cohosh, Echinacea, gingko, ginseng, kava kava, kola, mahuang (ephedra), valerian, yohimbe, or yerba mate. Nor were there any deaths from combination remedies used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine, Hispanic medicine, or Homeopathic medicine.
Compare that accomplishment to the dismal track record of prescription drugs and medical procedures!
Pegging the wrong offender is still a problem
Of course, many people in the U.S. take supplements alongside their prescription drugs. But when something goes wrong, doctors typically blame the supplement and not the drug.
But that’s a ridiculous position for doctors to take, knowing how potent drugs are (and how many deaths they cause!) compared to supplements. In fact, drugs cause so many deaths, Medical Examiners no longer bother to figure out whether deaths due to prescription drugs were accidental, suicidal, or possibly even homicidal. All the insurance companies want to know is whether or not a deadly drug was taken according to prescription recommendations.
There are also cases where an autopsy suggests that a deceased person had been taking a dozen or more prescription drugs. So, Medical Examiners describe the death as a “polypharmacy overdose (OD)”—or a lethal combination of drugs—rather than taking the time to determine all the potential toxic interactions.
In fact, I remember being consulted as an expert on more than one case where prosecutors and medical boards thought the victim had died of suicide, homicide, or malpractice. But instead, they were all just classified as cases of OD. Because, again, the Medical Examiner just hadn’t bothered to figure out the exact cause, before signing the death certificate.
I even reviewed some cases from Pittsburg, where I was licensed (the original hometown of my father’s family) involving a Medical Examiner I used to work with, who went on to achieve great fame for his work on head injuries in football players. While he did advance research into severe head injuries, he didn’t do a lot of favors for the judicial system with some of the mysteries he left behind on his toxicology cases.
In the end, nutritional supplements are far safer than prescription drugs. That being said, please don’t try to save a few pennies by buying cheap, mass-produced supplements from large retail stores or internet sellers. As I reported again most recently last January, the products sold by these purveyors are always inferior in quality. And some of them are outright fakes.
Instead, I urge you to do your research and purchase high-quality supplements. You can always check out my own Smart Science Nutritionals line of supplements under the “Shop” tab on my website. And I also encourage you to become a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures, where I stay current with all of the latest medical science—including the benefits of nutritional supplements. Click here now!
“2018 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 36th Annual Report.” Clinical Toxicology, 2019; 57(12):1220-1413. doi.org/10.1080/15563650.2019.1677022.