Take with caution, if we must

Clinical Brief – August 16th

The Brief

Dietary supplements, including homeopathic agents: Are they generally harmless? The latest stats suggest that poison center calls related to supplements are on the rise in the US.

In a related note, the FDA recently warned of possible bacterial contamination in supplements and a commonly prescribed stool softener made by PharmaTech. Their brands are listed below.

What’s that about poison center calls?

The supplement business is booming these days. In 2011-2012, an estimated 52% of US adults said they took a supplement in the past month.

But a study looking at poison center calls related to supplements found that from 2005 to 2012, the number of calls related to supplements shot up by 49%. Looking at the people affected:

7 in 10 cases were kids under 6

Over 8 in 10 cases were “unintentional”

Over 9 in 10 cases were acute

Topping the list of substances responsible:

  • Homeopathic agents topped the rankings, causing 36% of cases
  • Botanicals came in second at 32%, mostly caused by preps containing Ma huang
  • Hormonal products came in third at 15%

The good news was that slightly over a half of cases didn’t need medical therapy.

FDA warns of bacterial contamination

On Aug. 11th, the FDA issued a release that we should avoid “any liquid drug or dietary supplement products manufactured by PharmaTech LLC of Davie, Florida, and labeled by Rugby Laboratories, Major Pharmaceuticals and Leader Brands”.

The cause for concern? Potential bacterial contamination and risk for “severe patient infection”. Young kids, hospitalized patients, and those with weakened immune systems should take particular care.

One drug that was mentioned in the release was docusate, a commonly prescribed stool softener.

Bottom line

As a wise gynecologist once told me, all medications come with three parts poisons. Broad generalization, sure. But for supplements, if it’s not causing symptoms and inducing risks, I would just let it be. Then again, that’s just me.

Now, for the poison center calls. It looks as if a majority of cases were kids getting access to supplements and homeopathic agents in the house by accident. If that’s the case, safer storage may be called for.

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