Are you afraid to fly? I’m not. I admit, though, I do get a little twinge of nerves at takeoff and landing even though I know it’s safer to fly than to drive. Our misplaced fear of flying is a phenomenon with numerous causes. I’m reminded of this phenomenon when I read advice on supplements and vitamins.
Every time I read an article about supplements or vitamins (a recent example) the main tone is a warning that supplements are dangerous. Typically, articles cite the lack of tight regulation as cause for alarm and advise taking supplements at your own risk.
Such strong warnings about prescription drugs are not broadcasted as regularly. Perhaps that’s because they’re given under “the supervision of a healthcare professional”. Certainly that should make them safer. But does it?
From the FDA website, in 2010 there were over 82,000 deaths and 471,000 adverse events associated with prescription medications. While only 1,000 adverse events (not just deaths) attributed to dietary supplements were reported. (This number is certainly low. It’s most likely at least 10,000.*)
As a pharmacist, this post is not intended to be an indictment of prescription drugs. Just as saying car travel is less safe than air travel isn’t an indictment of automobiles. Prescription drugs are necessary. And, taken correctly, fairly safe.
But why are prescription drugs generally considered safe, while supplements are presented with strong warnings? Especially when the actual numbers are so different. I’m not sure. I have some ideas, but that’s for another time.
The message I’m driving towards is while there are some precautions when taking supplements, on the whole they’re just as safe, if not safer than, prescription drugs.
On Friday I’ll outline which precautions to take when choosing a supplement. After all, it pays to know where your emergency exits are on a plane. Just in case. (Two over the wing, one at the front of the plane, and one in the rear)
*The system for reporting adverse reactions from supplements is not nearly as robust as prescription drugs. One study concluded less than 1% of adverse events from supplements are accurately reported.