In a world obsessed with wellness, many of us turn to dietary supplements when our diets don’t exactly mirror all those perfectly photographed acai bowl and green smoothies on Instagram. Unfortunately, little hands are reaching for those bottles, too: A new study published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology found calls to poison control centers related to supplements rose by 50 percent between 2005 and 2012 in the United States—and the majority of the supplement poisoning concerns involved children younger than 6.
It’s not an epidemic—most of the calls didn’t result in serious medical issues—but is a reminder to store dietary supplements such as vitamins, herbs, homeopathic agents and botanicals, with the same precautions we use to store medications.
According to the records from the National Poison Data Center, U.S. centers received calls about about supplements once every 24 minutes. Although most incidents were mild, a botanical known as yohimbe, a tree bark extract used to treat sexual problems, is especially concerning to experts.
“Although the majority of these exposure calls did not result in serious medical outcomes, exposures to yohimbe and energy products can be dangerous,” said Henry Spiller, co-author of the study and director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in a press release. According to the study, specific side-effects for yohimbe overdose include heart beat rhythm changes, kidney failure, seizures, heart attack and death. Energy products can also result in heart and breathing problems, seizures and other clinical problems among children.
Spiller said this suggests the need for “child-resistant packaging, caregiver education and FDA regulation of these substances.”
The Center for Disease Control recommends storing all medicines and household products up, out of sight in a cabinet where a child cannot reach them—and never leaving a dose on a counter or table where a child could reach it. These safe practices should also apply to supplements.
Unfortunately, a March report by Safe Kids Worldwide found that while most parents agree it’s important to store all medicine up high and out of reach after every use, most don’t actually do that, often storing pill bottles at or just above counter height.
Older kids aren’t necessarily safe to be around supplements either, as the most serious outcomes for calls to poison control happened to kids six years old and older. Also, if your kids spend time with relatives or friends who don’t have childproofed homes, the Up and Away Campaign's website has great tips for grandparents on vitamin and medication storage.
We know that while keeping supplements by the smoothie blender may help you remember to take them—but this report proves that’s simply too risky with little ones in the house. So maybe that big bag of kale is a better option, after all.