The Hidden Dangers of Dietary Supplements

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People purchase dietary and nutritional supplements with the intention of boosting their immunity, improving their physique, or finding “all-natural” ways to sleep, concentrate or relax. With so many supplements marketed toward a sprawling range of health issues, it’s a buyer’s market. There’s CoQ10 for heart health, Ginko Biloba for improved circulation, St. John’s Wort for depression — the list goes on.

Supplement distributors often make claims about, or at the very least, allude to the health benefits of the supplements they sell. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for regulating the safety of food and drugs in America, doesn’t regulate supplements with the same rigorous standards that they use with medicine prescribed by a doctor, or even a can of soup for that matter.

dietary supplements

With less restrictions on how supplements are manufactured and distributed, this unfortunately means there is added risk for individuals who use these products—particularly supplements made by lesser known and less reputable fly-by-night manufacturers.

In February 2018, the Washington Post reported that the US Centers for Disease Control, along with several states, was investigating several outbreaks of Salmonella suspected to be linked to the herbal supplement kratom. While the article noted that no one had died from infection to date, 11 people were hospitalized. Salmonella can cause intestinal cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. While it usually clears up within a day or two, those with compromised immune systems, as well as the very young or elderly, can become severely sick, and in some cases, die.

Kratom is an herbal supplement harvested from the Mitragyna Speciosa tree, which is native to Thailand. The supplement, which can be purchased online, or gas stations in powder or pill form, is believed by some to be an effective treatment for diarrhea, and muscle cramping. Some also believe it can be used to mitigate the effects of opium withdrawal, a significant development as more Americans struggle with the ravages addiction.

Kratom is just one of many supplements available to people through a variety of distributors. While the chances of becoming sickened by a supplement at a reputable nutrition store is relatively small, it’s important to understand how the supplement industry differs from other businesses.

Can Supplements Make a Person Sick?

A February 20, 2018 article published in Live Science specifically examined the issue of how a supplement might become contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella. The article quoted Dr. Benjamin Chapman, an associate professor of food and safety at North Carolina State University. Chapman explained that the process of manufacturing supplements, which involves drying plant material can actually preserve salmonella microbes.

“A dry heat actually makes it more persistent in a food or ingredient,” Chapman said, adding that the microbes could potentially remain in a supplement for years.

As for how Salmonella would get into the material in the first place, Chapman noted it could have been introduced through irrigation of the plants used in the supplement, or perhaps at some other point in the manufacturing process.

Government Regulation of Health Supplements is Less Stringent than Other Products

While the FDA does provide some regulation of the health supplement industry, it does not provide the same stringent oversight that it does with prescription medicine. The responsibility for the safety of a dietary supplement lies primarily with the manufacturer. It is also the responsibility of the producer to ensure that the labeling on the supplement is not misleading. However, unlike drug manufacturers, supplement companies aren’t required to provide the FDA with evidence that their product is safe and effective.

In 2010, Consumer Reports issued a list of 12 supplements clinically linked to adverse health events. In describing the industry, Consumer Reports noted “a striking lack of government oversight for the bustling $26.7 billion dietary supplement market.”

Due to the lack of oversight, it’s possible for some supplement manufacturers to operate in the shadows and distribute products with the potential to injure consumers. In an interview with the Orange County Register in 2014, one personal injury attorney likened some supplement companies to swamp creatures.

“I can’t tell you how many of these cases we have to turn down because the manufacturers have no assets or insurance,” the attorney said. When we try to sue them, they sink down into the mud from which they came.”

Despite this bleak outlook on some supplement manufacturers, if you believe you’ve been injured by a defective or dangerous product it is important to contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your options.

Continue reading to learn about a couple high-sum awards granted to people who were injured after taking supplements. Remember, just because the industry is under regulated doesn’t mean that a negligent company is immune from civil liability.

Cases Involving Supplement Companies, Settlements and the Media

In the late 1980s, a popular supplement known as L-tryptophan made headlines when consumers began experiencing symptoms of Eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS) which included muscle cramps, tingling in their arms and legs and damage to their heart and lungs. A 1993 Los Angeles Times article noted that more than 1,000 lawsuits had been filed against the supplement manufacturer, Showa Denko KK. Many of these cases were settled, however school teacher Betsy DiRosa was awarded more than a $1 million by a San Diego jury.

In 2014, the Orange County Register reported that the manufacturer and distributor of a dietary supplement known as Epio-Plex had agreed to pay a man $4.2 million after he ingested the supplement and suffered liver and kidney failure. In that case, 24-year-old Daniel Lineberger had used the supplement for about a month. It was marketed for weight loss and body building. Subsequently, Lineberger developed acute liver and kidney failure, and his skin yellowed.

Luckily, a liver and kidney became available quickly, and he was able to receive the transplants.

Medical tests showed Lineberger had experienced liver toxicity, and doctors believed that the supplements may have been to blame. Lineberger learned that Epio-Plex had been recalled by the FDA due to suspicions that the supplement contained synthetic steroids known to cause liver damage. Lineberger hired an attorney who had a sample of Epio-Plex tested by a professional laboratory. It was discovered the supplement in fact contained two designer steroids banned by the federal government.

Injured by Supplements? Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

This article shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that supplements can’t be taken safely. However, consumers should practice caution when purchasing these items, and only deal with reputable companies and manufacturers. There are also good sources of information that can be consulted online. For instance, PubMed, a service of the National Library of medicine, provides public information from scientific and medical journals.

If you believe that you’ve been injured as the result of herbal or dietary supplement use, contact a qualified personal injury attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation. A consumer might be eligible for pain and suffering damages, attorney’s fees, and even punitive damages.

It’s important to keep in mind that the clock starts ticking once you’ve been injured by a supplement product. In many cases, you have only two years to file a complaint against a company. Once the statute of limitations runs out, your case can be lost forever. Many of the companies providing products resulting in personal injury don’t operate above board to begin with. If you’ve been injured, it’s important the operators are identified quickly before they have an opportunity to avoid being held responsible.

If you have questions about dietary supplements, or some other personal injury issue, contact our office for more information.

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