Working long hours on the computer was beginning to take a toll on John’s health.  Though he followed a regime of taking a break every hour and walking around the office, he soon realized that it was not enough.  Erratic eating habits combined with numerous cups of coffee every day had started showing on his belly and his face.  While his belly seemed to keep expanding, his face showed signs of fatigue – even when he woke up in the mornings.  Discussions with a colleague led John to start taking dietary supplements in the form of pills.  Very soon, he found that his energy levels were up and his belly had started going down.

The downside of dietary supplements

However, after a couple of months, John started feeling that there was something wrong – he would suddenly find his heart palpitating at a fast rate and even started experiencing mild chest pains on and off.  Brushing it aside as something caused by the stress of his work, John continued with his lifestyle.  Last week, John collapsed at the office and had to be rushed to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.

Post the examination and initial treatment, what the doctors said, astounded not only John but his colleagues too.  John’s problem stemmed from the dietary supplements that he had been taking.  The pills worked very well – one would suppress John’s appetite while the other would boost his energy levels.  The result was that John started eating even less than what he normally did, while working longer hours because of the energy boost.  The constant high energy levels eventually lead to a faster than normal heart rate which finally resulted in his collapse.

Regulatory problem with dietary supplements

Unfortunately, John’s case is not a one off.  According to a federal study, heart problems in  young adults, caused due to dietary supplements are resulting in over 20,000 emergency room visits every year.  The crux of the problem is in the regulations or rather the lack of it regarding dietary supplements.  While prescription medicines go through rigorous testing and are regulated by the FDA in all aspects, including the size and thickness of the pills; dietary supplements do not have to undergo the same.  The fact that 30 percent of dietary supplement related emergencies for those over 65 years are due to choking on the pills shows the fallout of this lack of regulation.

In defense of dietary supplements

The FDA and Center for Disease Control and Prevention, conducted a joint study which has found that nearly 70 percent of the negative symptoms which involve heart palpitations, fast heart rates and chest pains are caused by supplements taken for energy boosts or weight control.  While some companies have implemented stricter testing procedures, majority of the dietary supplement industry are defending their products.  According to the spokesman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, there are over 150 million Americans taking these supplements every year.  Thus the figure of 20,000 barely represents 0.014 percent of supplement users.  While the statistics might be in favor of the dietary supplement industry, it does not offer any comfort for people like John.

What the future may hold

A 1994 federal law that deems all supplements to be safe until proven to the contrary, has come under criticism from many quarters.  The studies conducted so far, now has people asking for increased regulation of the dietary supplement industry.  While nothing has happened so far, an increase in the regulations regarding supplements may soon follow.

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