A Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found hundreds of cases of children and young adults seriously harmed by supplements that promise to help with energy, weight loss or building muscle.
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, looked at reports to the Food and Drug Administration from January 2004 to April 2015. It concluded that compared to vitamins, those supplements carried nearly triple the risk of "severe medical events" in young people.
"By 'severe medical events,' I mean emergency room visits, hospitalization, life-threatening events such as convulsion and loss of consciousness, disability and even death," lead researcher Flora Or said.
Or said the 977 cases of adverse events the study found — including 40% considered severe — are probably just the tip of the iceberg because most problems with supplements are not reported.
And the likely causes are either contaminants in the supplements or overdoses.
A 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study estimated that dietary supplements lead to 23,000 emergency room visits per year in the U.S.
The Harvard study recommends repeal or revision of the federal law that keeps supplements from being more robustly regulated.
In the meantime, Or says, "I recommend that individuals and parents stay away from these supplements."