Herbal supplements like bitter orange and ephedra lead 20-somethings to develop irregular heartbeats: expert warns people are using unregulated pills based on bad medical advice from podcasts
- Expert warns some herbal supplements could cause heart rhythm problems in young people
- California-based cardiologist Dr Danielle Belardo said the majority of cases of 20-year-olds with the problem she’s seen are caused by the pills
- These pills are not FDA regulated, which means their content and potential side effects can vary widely.
- She says many people take these supplements after being advised by media like podcasts that don’t give the best medical advice.
Cardiology experts warn that poorly regulated over-the-counter herbal supplements are causing heart rhythm problems in users in their 20s.
Newport Beach, Calif.-based cardiologist Dr. Danielle Belardo told Insider that supplements are the most common cause of arrhythmias in patients coming to her clinic, and warned that the lack of monitoring for the development of these pills means dangerous ingredients could be found. Bitter orange and ephedra supplements are thought to be the main culprits.
A person in their twenties with an arrhythmia is a rare case. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute reports that 70% of cases of the disease are in people between the ages of 65 and 85 – with overall risk decreasing as age decreases.
Supplement use has skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some experts fear. Although these pills can be found easily in grocery stores and pharmacies across America, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Experts warn that at the best of times they are often unnecessary and can delay a person actually seeking proper medical treatment. In the worst case, they could be contaminated with banned ingredients that harm users.
Dr Danielle Belardo (pictured) said the majority of cases of arrhythmia in young people she sees at her California clinic are linked to the use of herbal supplements like bitter orange
Belardo said these herbal supplements have been responsible for a majority of the irregular heartbeat cases she has seen in recent months.
“It builds on what we know about herbal supplements and arrhythmia,” Belardo said.
“Since there is such poor regulation of the formulation, purity, and efficacy of these herbs, we have no solid literature to tell us exactly what causes what.”
She said she now asks patients who present with an irregular heartbeat to let her know what over-the-counter medications they might be taking.
Since many people who use these pills often take more than one, it’s hard for doctors like Belardo to figure out which one might be causing problems.
However, previous research has linked specific supplements to arrhythmia.
Bitter orange, often used as a treatment for nausea, indigestion, constipation, and other gastrointestinal issues, has been linked to irregular heartbeat issues.
Experts also warn that the alkaloids ephedra and ephedrine, which were banned in the United States nearly 20 years ago for being linked to heart problems.
The NIH has linked bitter orange supplements (left) to heart rhythm problems in the past. Supplements that use ephedra (right) have been banned in the US, but could still contaminate some doses
There are also a host of other ingredients in all sorts of supplements that could pose a risk that experts aren’t even aware of.
The use of these pills has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. The supplements combined for an estimated $11 billion in sales in 2020, surpassing the $10 billion mark for the first time.
The 17% year-over-year growth more than doubled the 8% growth recorded by the industry in 2019.
Belardo says she has respect for alternative medicine, but worries that many people are turning to these supplements after being recommended by social media personalities who don’t give the best advice.
‘The truth is, when you sometimes watch the top health podcasts or top health influencers, they’re often not people recommending the evidence-based, guideline-based medicine recommended by all the major academic medical organizations. ‘, she said.
Other experts have also expressed fears that some people are using supplements to replace actual drugs – and could harm themselves as a result by not seeking the necessary care.
AARP warns that the supplement industry thrives on lack of regulation and that today’s major players have no reason to change their standard of operation unless forced to.
Over-the-counter supplements do not contain controlled substances—if they did, the FDA would remove them from shelves—and are generally safe.
Herbal supplements are at the center of heart rhythm problems