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Kids and Supplements: U.S. Poison Control Receives 275,000 Crisis Calls Each Year

Blog Kids and Supplements: U.S. Poison Control Receives 275,000 Crisis Calls Each Year

According to the study, dietary supplements with the highest proportion of serious medical outcomes were energy products, botanical and cultural medicines.


Every 24 minutes: That’s how often United States Poison Control Centers receive a call about a child ingesting a supplement.

In fact, a recent study, published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, found that the rate of calls regarding these products has skyrocketed since 2000. Seventy percent of accidents occur in the home among children younger than six years old.

Miscellaneous substances found in commonly used dietary supplements accounted for the majority of exposure calls (43.9 percent). Other substances involved in exposures, per the study, included botanicals (31.9 percent) and hormonal products (15.1 percent). Amino acids, cultural medicines and energy products each accounted for less than 2 percent of the reported exposures.

According to the study, dietary supplements with the highest proportion of serious medical outcomes were energy products, botanical and cultural medicines. Within the botanical category, a compound called yohimbe accounted for the largest proportion of serious medical outcomes (28.2 percent).

"Many consumers believe dietary supplements are held to the same safety standards as over-the-counter medications," said Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, senior author of the study. "However, dietary supplements are not required to undergo clinical trials or obtain approval from the FDA prior to sale, unless the product is labeled as intended for therapeutic use."

Other experts say the study also reflects how many people are using these products and the casual attitudes they carry.

“Often, calls regarding children and these kinds of accidental ingestions hinge upon where the product was placed in the home. Were the supplements on the countertop, in a purse, stored on low nightstands or other easily accessible areas? If so, that’s a part of the problem,” says Daniel Rusyniak, MD, medical director of the Indiana Poison Center, a nonprofit agency run by Indiana University Health and the Indiana State Department of Health. “People need to treat these products just as they would a prescription medication. Store them up high or in locked cabinets—safer areas out of the reach of children.”

Product labels often add another layer to the problem, says Dr. Rusyniak, since many supplement packages can be deceiving.

“People tend to think most dietary supplements are all-natural and because they are sold in a pharmacy setting that they are all safe. This is false,” he says. “The reality is that many of these products contain synthesized ingredients—compounds that can have pharmaceutical effects. And these can create unexpected side effects based upon a person’s body chemistry, which can spur serious complications.”

The bottom line: Regardless of their labels, dietary supplements are just like drugs and should be treated as such,” suggests Dr. Rusyniak.

-- By Sarah Burns

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