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Some popular dietary supplements are risky for young people

Orange and yellow pills on a blue background

July 5, 2019—Young people taking dietary supplements to drop pounds, build muscle or gain energy are gambling with their health, a new study warns.

It looked at reports of medical problems among people 25 and younger who were taking just one supplement. The study included problems reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2004 and 2015.

Almost 1,000 incidents were reported. Of them, 40% had a severe outcome. These included hospital stays and even deaths.

When compared with vitamins:

  • Supplements sold for weight loss, muscle growth or energy were linked with nearly triple the risk of serious health problems in young people.
  • Supplements sold to boost sexual function or as a colon cleanse were linked with about twice the risk of serious health problems in young people.

Reputable doctors don't advise using supplements like these, the researchers said. Many contain dangerous ingredients, such as prescription drugs, banned substances, heavy metals and pesticides.

But these supplements are still widely marketed to and used by young people, researchers said. That's despite repeated warnings from FDA to the public about the risks.

The researchers urged policymakers and retailers to take steps to protect consumers.

The study appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Miscarriage risk revealed

In related news, FDA warned that a common ingredient in many supplements may cause a miscarriage or harm a developing baby.

It's called vinpocetine, a synthetic ingredient. And it's often found in supplements marketed as memory and energy boosters and for weight loss.

It can be sold on its own or combined with other ingredients. On a label, it may also be listed as:

  • Vinca minor extract.
  • Lesser periwinkle extract.
  • Common periwinkle extract.

Because of its risks, FDA advises pregnant women—or those who could become pregnant—not to take vinpocetine.

Learn your way around labels

Knowing how to read a supplement label may give you a better idea of what you're putting in your body. This guide shows you what to look for.

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