Supplements that promise fixes may be deadly
Dietary supplements for weight loss, energy, sexual function or muscle building are popular among young people. But they led to 1,392 adverse event reports in people under 25 from 2004 to 2015, with more than 40% of them severe or even fatal.
A 1994 law prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from screening supplements for safety or efficacy, and requires only that manufacturers assert that their products are safe before selling them.
Using an FDA database, researchers focused on 977 of the adverse events that occurred after taking a single supplement. Among them were 166 hospitalizations, 39 reports of life-threatening events and 22 deaths. Most adverse events were among 18- to 25-year-olds. The study is in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Compared with vitamin supplements, weight loss supplements were 2.6 times as likely to cause a severe adverse event, muscle supplements 2.7 times as likely, sexual function aids 2.4 times as likely and energy enhancers 2.6 times as likely.
“Drugs are tested very carefully before launching,” said the lead author, Flora Or, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “With supplements there is no such testing. And there is huge underreporting of these adverse events. Many physicians don’t report these things. What we’re really seeing is the tip of the iceberg.”
— Nicholas Bakalar, The New York Times
Abortion accessibility may improve health
A long-term study of women who sought abortions has found that those who ended their pregnancies reported slightly better health than their counterparts who requested the procedure but were denied.
The findings, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests that a woman’s access to abortion may influence her health over time.
“Having an abortion is not necessarily dangerous or harmful to women, but being denied one may be,” said study leader Lauren Ralph, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “The argument that abortion is harmful to women, or that restricting access is somehow necessary to protect women’s health, is not supported by our data.”
The new report is part of the Turnaway Study, an initiative to explore whether there are differences in the well-being of women who receive an abortion in the first or second trimester and women who were denied an abortion and carried their pregnancy to term.
“Whether the adverse outcomes observed among women who gave birth are due to term pregnancy, the birthing process itself, or parenting, the point is that reproductive life events and overall health are entwined long after delivery,” wrote Dr. Lisa S. Harris and Dr. Vanessa Dalton, both of the University of Michigan’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
— Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times
Heartburn drugs can damage the heart or kidneys
The heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, are known to have serious side effects. Now researchers have documented the ways in which they may be deadly.
The report, in BMJ, used a Veterans Affairs database of 157,625 new users of PPIs like Prevacid and Prilosec, and 56,842 people prescribed a different type of acid-suppressing medicine called H2 blockers (Pepcid and Zantac, for example).
Over 10 years of follow-up, the researchers calculated that there were 45 excess deaths for every 1,000 users of PPIs, with most of the deaths a result of cardiovascular disease or chronic kidney disease.
But half of the people on PPIs had none of the common indications for taking them, including peptic ulcer, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or Barrett’s esophagus. For those people, the most common causes of death were cardiovascular disease, kidney disease or upper digestive system cancers.
“We don’t want to imply that people shouldn’t be taking PPIs when they really need them,” said the senior author, Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly of the Washington University School of Medicine. “In people taking them for the right reasons, the benefits outweigh the risks. But even then, they should be taken at the lowest doses and for the shortest period of time possible.”
— Nicholas Bakalar, The New York Times