Dietary supplements, which are also called “biologically active,” is a huge growing market. But do you know any of the dietary supplements side effects? Let’s see what they are!
Despite the fact that supplements are part of the market for “healthy” products, publications often appear in the media with doubts about their effectiveness and even statements about harm and danger.
The most popular saying is, “dietary supplements kill the liver.” This myth is replicated by many “evidence-based” publicists. They claim that “20% of all liver damage in the United States caused by supplements“.
This is a serious claim – let’s check the sources and find out if the problem is so serious and whether such dietary supplements side effects are justified.
Factual Data About Dietary Supplements Side Effects
The source of this statement is a review publication in the journal Hepatology. The notorious 20% claim is based on an analysis of a prospective study published in the same Hepatology in 2014, which reviews cases of hepatotoxicity reported in the United States from 2004 to 2013. But, of course, there is a nuance.
The graph of the “increase in the proportion of liver damage” looks frightening. But this is still a percentage. The “beautiful” scarecrow instantly collapses when we look not at the relative, but at the absolute number of cases.
For 9 years in the United States (a country with a population of 329 million people), scientists have investigated only 130 cases (yes, this is not a typo, not 130 thousand, but just one hundred thirty) related to HDS (Herbal and Dietary supplement), of which 45 are related to products for bodybuilding.
N is directly the number of cases in each group.
“Bodybuilding Supplements” here include “illegally added” steroids without labeling and contain 45 cases.
It is important to note that the authors of the study themselves “sweep aside” these 45 products since the components were added illegally and without labeling, and they say that this cannot be classified as problems from additives.
The remaining 85 are 58 cases related to multicomponent formulas, 14 related to “natural extracts,” 7 cases related to “traditional medicine” (Indian, Chinese, Korean, etc.), and only 6 cases related to mono-supplements in the form of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and so on.
Most multicomponent supplements are infamous network marketing or “weight loss” pills.
A question of interpretation
And now – the most brilliant. What are the remaining 709 cases related to? Maybe with alcohol, drugs, or an unhealthy lifestyle? No, they are drug-related.
Unscrupulous interpreters could publish this data under completely different headings, for example, “drugs cause liver injury 8 times more often than supplements” (which is how 709 cases of liver injury from drug use and 85 cases from Herbal and Dietary Supplements correlate).
But, of course, that would be complete nonsense and manipulation of statistics. The U.S. market for supplements for 2019 is over $180 billion, with millions of supplements sold annually.
The drug market is, of course, even more, extensive regarding this amount. In relation to this, 709 or 85 cases in as many as 9 years is a statistically insignificant number.
But, of course, the statement “over 9 years in the US there have been 85 cases of liver injury due to supplements“, while accurate, is not as sensational as “20% of liver damage in the US is caused by supplements.“
The second strikes directly at the worries and fears of the layman, convinced that they are in a besieged fortress and around there are enemies who just want to slip poison on them.
This is similar to chemophobia – if “naturopaths” claim that harmful monosodium glutamates cause millions of diseases, and palm oil is transported in “technical tanks,” then dietary supplement fighters talk about “lack of control over additives” and that dietary supplements side effects can almost kill you.
But the reality is completely different, and publications using deliberately distorted statistics are just the “yellow press” no different from the one that says about “killer sugar” or “conspiracies of food companies.”
There are many gray and dark spots in the supplement market, as in any other major industry, that are important to mention:
- network marketing builds financial pyramids around the sale of additives (in all fairness, in addition to additives, they do this with cosmetics, care products, household goods, tea, and anything else);
- pharmaceutical and para pharmaceutical companies often register pseudo-drugs as dietary supplements, which on the shelves of pharmacies mimic effective drugs;
- the sports audience is aware of the problem of “basement” (“underground”) products – handicraft and unregistered products containing prohibited substances (geranium or 1,3-DMAA, ephedrine, or “designer steroids”).
But these problems, although they often “shine” in the media, in fact, represent a very low percentage of the real market.
Most of the supplement market is vitamins, minerals, polyunsaturated fatty acids, proteins, and fiber. Extracts and “others” form a smaller part, but they are the focus of demonizers.
As a result, such distortion of information often makes people unreasonably afraid of the most common vitamin and mineral supplements, which publicists call almost life-threatening. But in fact, the danger is not all that is hidden behind the mark of dietary supplements.
However, it’s important to note that certain types of drugs can actually hurt you – especially fat burners. In order to avoid harm, you should follow intuitive guidelines:
- do not buy drugs (whether it is supplements, drugs or “superfoods”), the composition of which you do not know (except for the doctor’s recommendation);
- carefully study the information on the choice of certain products, read reviews;
- do not buy “underground” products;
- tell your doctor about all the supplements you take when prescribing treatment.
Such recommendations, in principle, are valid for any other goods: it is unlikely that you will buy baby food for your child “from a basement dealer” or expect the same quality from the “abibas” bought on the clothing market as in the official store. It’s the same with supplements.
As for the recommendations of real evidence-based medicine, in its review of hepatotoxicity of supplements and herbal preparations, the world-famous resource UpToDate provides a link to a detailed guide with information on hepatotoxicity (or lack thereof) for more than 1000 drugs or supplement ingredients.
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