June 5 (UPI) -- Over-the-counter dietary supplements may be harmful, and possibly deadly, for children and young adults, new findings show.
Roughly 40 percent of people up to age 25 who took weight loss, muscle building and energy supplements suffered severe medical complications, according to a study published Wednesday Wednesday in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"The FDA has issued countless warnings about supplements sold for weight loss, muscle building or sport performance, sexual function, and energy, and we know these products are widely marketed to and used by young people," Flora Or, a researcher at Harvard University and study lead author, said in a news release. "So what are the consequences for their health? That's the question we wanted to answer."
The study included data from the Food and Drug Administration's Adverse Event Reporting System in the food and dietary supplements database between January 2004 and April 2015. The researchers compared the risk of death, disability and hospital visits for people between ages 0 and 25 who consumed vitamins compared to weight loss, muscle building, or energy supplements.
After looking over 977 single-supplement-related adverse event reports, the researchers revealed that weight loss, muscle building and energy supplements were linked to nearly three times higher risk of severe medical complication compared to vitamins.
Many supplements of the type studied by researchers have been found to contain contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides and other harmful chemicals, including prescription drugs, the researchers say. Past studies have shown supplements containing those substances have been linked to liver damage, testicular cancer and death.
Findings from another study reported 746 over-the-counter supplements sold in the United States consisted of undeclared and harmful ingredients that weren't approved by the FDA.
"How can we continue to let the manufacturers of these products and the retailers who profit from them play Russian roulette with America's youth?" said S. Bryn Austin, a professor at Harvard and study senior author. "It is well past time for policymakers and retailers to take meaningful action to protect children and consumers of all ages."