Scary supplements

I just came across an article with the provocative headline “Use of dietary supplements lead to 23,000 emergency visits each year” based on a 2015 NEJM study. This article seems to be suggesting that supplements are hazardous and should be avoided or at least more heavily regulated. Actually, they explicitly quote a physician who talks about the untested-ness and unregulated-ness of dietary supplements.
It also said that of this estimated 23,000 ER visits each year, there are “more then 2,100 hospitalizations”annually from supplements (
average hospital admission from ER visits is 11.9%, a little more frequent than the 9.1% admission rate we see here). That sounds like a lot of visits and hospital stays. Are supplements really that dangerous?
Conveniently, the same page also had links to some other ER statistics:
  • Annual ER visits related to schizophrenia in young adults is 382,000 (over 16 times more common that from supplements), of which about half are hospitalized as a result (nearly 90 times more common than supplement-related admissions)
  • Nearly 100,000 seniors are admitted to the hospital annually because of emergencies caused by adverse drug events. That’s over 47 times the number from supplements and that’s just in seniors.
  • 1.1 million annual ER visits from drug poisoning (once again, over 47 times the number from supplements), of which 24.5% are hospitalized (over 128 times more hospitalizations than from supplements)
  • The are around 24,000 ER visits for treadmill-related injuries annually, making treadmills more dangerous to the country than supplements
  • Apparently, even mirrors are more dangerous than supplements with 24,943 mirror-related injuries in 2014. There are even more injuries from sound recording equipment (44,278) and television sets and monitors (61,136). Interestingly, protection devices (12,829) injuries seem to be a bit safer than supplements, but do remember that ER visits for supplements are often just that someone took a lot or an unknown number of a supplement and are going to be sure it’s safe, so in many of these cases, there is no actual injury - just worry.
So, certainly, it’s worth paying attention to what you are taking and not throwing caution to the wind, but supplements are hardly the public health hazard that articles like this are trying to imply.