I don’t like to use this blog post to speak out on current events, there are plenty of other places for people to read opinion on current events. The purpose of this blog is to focus on the science of Wellness, not opinion.  However, sometimes current events require me to speak out.   This happened recently with what appears to be a mass media push on the dangers of supplements.  In this case, the media and physicians in the media displayed amazing ignorance of the scientific evidence.


The headline in question was “supplements lead to 23,000 ER visits annually”.   To be clear, Twenty-three thousand ER visits due to supplements, according to this article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is not good.  That number should be zero.  Twenty-three thousand visits to the ER for any reason is not good.  No physician wants their patients to have to pay their local ER a visit.  Likewise, I don’t know many people that would like to spend their free time in their local ER.  As bad as the 23,000 ER visits is, a little perspective is required–some perspective to clear the haze of ignorance in the media.  The ignorance of the media is to be expected, but I am surprised by the ignorance of the physicians in the media.


According to U.S. statistics, the current U.S. population sits at 322 million.  An estimated 240 million, or 77% of the U.S. population, is 18 years or older.  I think it is safe to classify 18 years and older as the U.S. adult population.  According to 2006 statistics by the CDC, over 50% of US adults used daily supplements in the study years 2003-2006.  If just 50% of the US adult population in 2006 took 1 daily supplement, that would equal 120 million US adults (remember, the study actually found > 50% took daily supplements) take at least 1 supplement daily.  According to the press push, supplements resulted in 23,000 ER visits.  The 23,000 ER visits resulted in 2,154 hospitalizations.  Crunch the numbers and you find 0.01% of estimated daily U.S. adult supplement users visit the ER as a result of adverse events from daily supplement use.   The worst adverse event would be death.  According to the U.S. Poison Control Center, no deaths due to supplements were reported from 1983-2009.  That is a study period of 27 years and no deaths due to supplements were reported.


What about prescription medications? Here is where the media ignorance really shines through and the ignorance of the physicians in the media is inexcusable.   Seventy percent of the U.S. population takes at least 1 prescription medication daily.  In the same study, over 50% of the U.S. population takes at least 2 daily prescription medications.  It is frightening that 20% of the population takes at least 5 daily prescription medications.  According to the CDC, over 700,000 ER visits annually are the result of prescription medication complications and/or adverse events.  The 700,000 ER visits are only the reported numbers.  Medicine has a history of massive underreporting of complications and/or adverse events to the CDC.  This 700,000+ ER visits, due to prescription medications, results in greater than 120,000 hospitalizations annually.  What about deaths?  Compared to no deaths from supplements, the U.S. Poison Control Center found that over 3 million deaths occurred from 1983-2009 due to prescription medications.


Let’s compare apples to apples.  Seventy percent (according to CDC data) of 240 million equals at least 168 million of the U.S. adult population is taking at least 1 prescription medication daily.  The 700,000+ annual ER visits equates to 0.4% of estimated daily U.S. adult prescription medication users visit the ER as a result of prescription medication use.  That compares to the 0.01% for supplements.  Remember, no deaths were reported due to supplements compared to 3 million + deaths due to prescription medications from 1983-2009.


Let’s summarize this to make things simple for the media:

  • 700,000+ annual ER visits due to prescription medications versus 23,000 annual ER visits due to supplements
  • 120,000 hospitalizations were the result of adverse events from prescription medications compared to 2,154 hospitalizations from supplements
  • 0.4% of prescription medication users led to complications that resulted in an ER visit compared 0.01% of supplement users
  • 3 million + deaths from prescription medications over 27 years versus zero deaths from supplements


Perspective is everything!