Study: dietary supplements source of increased calls to poison control centers

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- When it comes to a balanced diet, many people think dietary supplements are the way to go, but the results of a new national study suggest more caution when it comes to taking them.

Multivitamins or other dietary supplements are often thought of as healthy, but if they are taken improperly, Dr. Christopher Painter, an emergency medicine physician at BayCare Clinic, said they can have adverse effects, especially if they contain iron.

“Unlike some of the other agents in the vitamins and multivitamins that can be excreted out and gotten rid of, iron can build up and cause damage to the cells in the body,” said Dr. Painter.

A recent study published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology found about a 50 percent increase in calls to poison control centers throughout the U.S. due to dietary supplements between 2005 and 2012.

After looking through more than 270,000 phone calls, researchers found about 70 percent of the calls were for children under the age of 6 who unintentionally took too many dietary supplements. –

“It isn't always a bottles-worth that can cause a toxic overdose, it can be as much as a handful,” said Dr. Painter.

Dr. Painter said multi-vitamins and dietary supplements can be beneficial when taken properly, but if there are young children in the house, there are ways to protect them.

“Keep them out of reach of kids,” said Dr. Painter. “Some are quite tasty and fun to look at and pretty easy to overdose on.”

Other supplements have easy-to-open covers, so make sure they are stored properly.

Plus, if you have any questions about dietary supplements, Dr. Painter said you should talk to your doctor because there might just be a better way to get the nutrients you might be missing.

“Keep in mind, the best source of vitamins is a good diet,” said Dr. Painter. “A multi-vitamin wouldn't really prevent some of the things that can come with a poor diet.”