Dietary supplements, which are usually advertised as being natural and safe, are widely available in the USA. They are easier to buy compared to prescription drugs, and often have the reputation of working wonders.
There are over 90,000 vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, probiotics and other “natural” substances proliferating drugstores today, but there is not enough evidence to show that they have any real health benefits, New York Daily News reports. The Annals of Internal Medicine even warned against too much supplement use.
A Consumer Reports survey stated that half of all Americans believe that supplement companies test their products, while 38% believe that supplements are tested by the Food and Drug Administration.
But for the most part, supplement makers don’t actually have to prove product safety or effectivity.
Because of weak regulations on dietary supplements, they can easily be contaminated, prove useless or in worst case scenarios, even spiked with illegal drugs, causing dangerous side effects.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition, which represents supplement manufacturers, says that there is enough regulation and that the vast majority of products are safe for consumption. CEO Steve Mister that, “The larger companies, the big brands that you and I see, the ones producing the majority of the products out there, are doing quite well and are very safe for consumers.”
However, Consumer Reports has found 15 supplement ingredients that have been linked to health hazards, and that should be avoided by the supplement-buying public.
These are: Acenite, Caffeine Powder, Chaparral, Comfrey, Germander, Greater Celandine, Green Tea Extract Powder, Kava, Lobelia, Methylsynephrine, Pennyroyal Oil, Red Yeast Rice, Usnic Acid, Yohimbe.
As an example, yohimbe is used in supplements for obesity, depression and sexual dysfunction. But a panel of doctors and researchers found that it can also raise heart rate and blood pressure, cause panic attacks, severe headaches, liver and kidney problems, and even death.
Green tea extract, which is used for weight loss, can cause dizziness, raise blood pressure and heart rate, cause liver damage, worsen anemia and glaucoma and at the end, death. Caffeine powder, which is used to improve sports performance, lose weight or focus attention, has been linked to cardiac arrest, heart arrhythmia, and death when used with other medications and stimulants.
Consumer Reports identified these 15 supplement ingredients in supplements sold by major stores such as Costco, GNC, Walmart, CVS and Whole Foods. According to the organization, the best way to protect buyers is for lawmakers to come up with stronger regulations for supplements. It also warns that many supplements can have harmful effects when taken with prescription medications, and recommends that patients inform their doctors if they are taking any supplements before going on medication.