Looking At All The Numbers

Last Wednesday, The New England Journal of Medicine published a new study that was the culmination of a ten-year investigation regarding the number of emergency room visits due to the use of dietary supplements—sixty-three emergency room departments were used. The results of this study—23,000 visits and 2,154 hospitalizations per year. The main culprits were weight loss and energy supplements.

Such studies bring out criticism that consumers are not being protected from harm. These complaints also like to highlight the 1994 federal law stating supplements are considered safe until proven otherwise.

First and foremost, all emergency room visits and hospitalizations are regrettable.

As you know from my previous posts, I’m a firm believer in looking at a wider canvas. Regarding the above 1994 law, please refer to my post on GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) on June 18 of this year—a food ingredient does not have to be listed on a label if it has not caused harm. Remember it’s the food companies that perform the testing.

If we look at problems with nutritional supplements, light must also be cast on the potentially dangerous effects of prescription drugs (Rx) and over-the-counter medications (OTC); some examples:

  • A 2009 Drug Abuse Warning Network Report states 4.6 million drug-related (Rx, OTC, supplements) emergency room visits per year.
  • A 2006 NBC report states that 1.5 million drug errors are made per year in hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors’ offices.
  • A 1998 report on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) states over 100,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths per year occurred because of these medications.
  • In July 2000, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study reporting 20-30% of patients receive contraindicated care and 44,000 to 98,000 die each year due to medical errors.

As the above show, numerous studies and statistics can be used to highlight the dangers surrounding Rx, OTC, supplements, and medical care.

We must be careful when reading about such studies to remember that the numbers are reflecting one study, and we must ask ourselves is the media manipulating us to have us jump to certain conclusions. In my mind, attention should be paid to the problems, issues, and solutions in all the various aspects of health, wellness, and well-being.


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