November 2, 2015
Federal officials raise alarm on dietary supplement use
This story was produced by Stat, a national publication from Boston Globe Media Partners that will launch online this fall with coverage of health, medicine, and life sciences. Learn more and sign up for Stat’s morning newsletter at Statnews.com.
‘It’s absolutely impossible for the FDA to police this market without knowing what’s on it.’ Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Johns Hopkins University
“The margin of safety for these products in enormous,” said Steven Mister, president and chief executive of the council.Authors from the US Anti-Doping Agency wrote their own study for the special journal edition, saying they’re concerned about young athletes ingesting copious amounts of caffeine, which experts say can be easy to miss on many supplement labels. Young athletes commonly use supplements to drop weight, gain muscle, or boost their performance in competitions. “The stakes are high for all of us to protect the health of young athletes and to protect clean sport,” the authors wrote. One area the agency is particularly worried about: misleading supplement ads in fitness magazines, which can have high teen readerships. A pending bill would make Massachusetts the first state to ban the sale of weight-loss and muscle-building supplements to people under 18. The special journal edition also highlights a concerning case study from Hawaii. In 2013, the state’s only liver transplant center saw a spike in cases of acute hepatitis in relatively young healthy people. The common thread among all of them: a weight-loss product. Two of the nearly 40 hepatitis patients who had taken the product required liver transplants, and another patient deemed ineligible for a transplant died. “People take these things as if they’re medicine,” said Dr. Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist at the Hawaii Department of Health. “They’re often marketed as ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ or other buzzwords that people immediately consider as being not harmful.” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University, authored a paper urging the medical community, consumer advocates, and the supplement industry to work together to develop a premarket approval process for supplements. “It’s absolutely impossible for the FDA to police this market without knowing what’s on it,” Sharfstein said. “The smart thing for us to do is to get together and take some very practical and appropriate steps.” But the dietary supplement industry wields considerable political clout in Congress, and Mister — of the Council for Responsible Nutrition — says pre-market approval isn’t a compromise the industry sees as a viable solution. Dr. Pieter Cohen, an internist with the Cambridge Health Alliance who organized the series of papers, said others in supplement sales may not be willing to play ball. Cohen pointed out that the industry dismissed the recent report about emergency room visits tied to supplements by saying the numbers were small relative to the number of people taking the products. “It’s like if car manufacturers were making cars that were hospitalizing people,” Cohen said, “and they said ‘2,000 people got injured, but think of how many people got home safely.’ ” http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/11/02/diet-supplement-use-among-soldiers-athletes-raises-concern/ndZYAzGTosMU7knlJVShzL/story.html