In the quest for a perfect physique, many people turn to diet pills even though dietary supplements are linked to death and severe health problems…

Many people buy into the idea that you can never be too thin or too rich and now, in our youth-obsessed culture, we also want to look younger than ever. In the pursuit of physical perfection, many turn to dietary supplements, however, new research warns of dire consequences.

“The FDA has issued countless warnings about supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building or sport performance, sexual function, and energy, and we know these products are widely marketed to and used by young people. So what are the consequences for their health? That’s the question we wanted to answer,” says lead author Flora Or, a researcher with Harvard Chan School’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders.

Along with a research team, Or found links between dietary supplements for weight loss, muscle building, and energy to severe medical events in young adults.

Over 10 years of adverse dietary supplements event reports analysed

For the study, researchers looked at adverse event reports between January 2004 and April 2015 in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Adverse Event Reporting System on the food and dietary supplements database.

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They analysed the relative risk for severe medical events such as death, disability, and hospitalisation in individuals aged from 0 to 25 years that were linked with the use of dietary supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building, or energy compared to vitamins.

They found that there were 977 single-supplement-related adverse event reports for the target age group. Of those, approximately 40% involved severe medical outcomes, including death and hospitalisation.

Supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building, and energy were associated with almost three times the risk for severe medical outcomes compared to vitamins.

Weight-loss and muscle-building supplements have been linked to stroke, testicular cancer, liver damage, and even death.

Supplements sold for sexual function and colon cleanse were associated with approximately two times the risk for severe medical outcomes compared to vitamins.

The supplements debate

Playing Russian roulette with dietary supplements

Senior author S. Bryn Austin, a professor in the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences, notes that reputable physicians do not recommend the use of the type of dietary supplements analysed in this study.

Many of these products have been found to be adulterated with prescription pharmaceuticals, banned substances, heavy metals, pesticides, and other dangerous chemicals. And other studies have linked weight-loss and muscle-building supplements with stroke, testicular cancer, liver damage, and even death.

“How can we continue to let the manufacturers of these products and the retailers who profit from them play Russian roulette with America’s youth?” says Prof Austin. “It is well past time for policymakers and retailers to take meaningful action to protect children and consumers of all ages.”

Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health via

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