Aug. 5, 2010
|The dirty dozen|
|No scientific backup|
|What you can do|
|Supplements to avoid|
|Supplements to consider|
We Americans do love our dietary supplements. More than half of the adult population have taken them to stay healthy, lose weight, gain an edge in sports or in the bedroom, and avoid using prescription drugs. In 2009, we spent $26.7 billion on them, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, a trade publication.
What consumers might not realize, though, is that supplement manufacturers routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective. The Food and Drug Administration has not made full use of even the meager authority granted it by the industry-friendly 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).
As a result, the supplement marketplace is not as safe as it should be.
We have identified dozen supplement ingredients that we think consumers should avoid because of health risks, including cardiovascular, liver, and kidney problems. We found products with those ingredients readily available in stores and online.
Because of inadequate quality control and inspection, supplements contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, or prescription drugs have been sold to unsuspecting consumers. And FDA rules covering manufacturing quality don't apply to the companies that supply herbs, vitamins, and other raw ingredients.
China, which has repeatedly been caught exporting contaminated products, is a major supplier of raw supplement ingredients. The FDA has yet to inspect a single factory there.
The lack of oversight leaves consumers like John Coolidge, 55, of Signal Mountain, Tenn., vulnerable. He started taking a supplement called Total Body Formula to improve his general health. But instead, he says, beginning in February 2008, he experienced one symptom after another: diarrhea, joint pain, hair loss, lung problems, and fingernails and toenails that fell off. "It just tore me up," he said.
Eventually, hundreds of other reports of adverse reactions to the product came to the attention of the FDA, which inspected the manufacturer's facilities and tested the contents of the products. Most of the samples contained more than 200 times the labeled amount of selenium and up to 17 times the recommended intake of chromium, according to the FDA.
In March 2008 the distributor voluntarily recalled the products involved. Coolidge is suing multiple companies for compensatory damages; they have denied the claims in court papers. His nails and hair have grown back, but he said he still suffers from serious breathing problems.
(also known as)
|PURPORTED USES||POSSIBLE DANGERS||COMMENTS|
(aconiti tuber, aconitum, radix aconiti)
|Inflammation, joint pain, wounds, gout.||Toxicity, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, respiratory-system paralysis, heart-rhythm disorders, death.||Unsafe. Aconite is the most common cause of severe herbal poisoning in Hong Kong.|
(aurantii fructus, Citrus aurantium, zhi shi)
|Weight loss, nasal congestion, allergies.||Fainting, heart-rhythm disorders, heart attack, stroke, death.||Possibly unsafe. Contains synephrine, which is similar to ephedrine, banned by the FDA in 2004. Risks might be higher when taken with herbs that contain caffeine.|
(creosote bush, Larrea divaricata, larreastat)
|Colds, weight loss, infections, inflammation, cancer, detoxification.||Liver damage, kidney problems.||Likely unsafe. The FDA advises people not to take chaparral.|
(ionic silver, native silver, Silver in suspending agent)
|Fungal and other infections, Lyme disease, rosacea, psoriasis, food poisoning, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV/AIDS.||Bluish skin, mucous membrane discoloration, neurological problems, kidney damage.||Likely unsafe. The FDA advised consumers about the risk of discoloration on Oct. 6, 2009.|
(coughwort, farfarae folium leaf, foalswort)
|Cough, sore throat, laryngitis, bronchitis, asthma.||Liver damage, cancer.||Likely unsafe.|
(blackwort, common comfrey, slippery root)
|Cough, heavy menstrual periods, chest pain, cancer.||Liver damage, cancer.||Likely unsafe. The FDA advised manufacturers to remove comfrey products from the market in July 2001.|
(heartleaf, Sida cordifolia, silky white mallow)
|Nasal congestion, allergies, asthma, weight loss, bronchitis.||Heart attack, heart arrhythmia, stroke, death.||Likely unsafe. Possible dangers linked with its ephedrine alkaloids banned by the FDA in 2004.|
(Ge, Ge-132, germanium-132)
|Pain, infections, glaucoma, liver problems, arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer.||Kidney damage, death.||Likely unsafe. The FDA warned in 1993 that it was linked to serious adverse events.|
(celandine, chelidonii herba, Chelidonium majus)
|Upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders, detoxification, cancer.||Liver damage.||Possibly unsafe.|
(awa, Piper methysticum, kava-kava)
|Anxiety (possibly effective).||Liver damage.||Possibly unsafe. The FDA issued a warning to consumers in March 2002. Banned in Germany, Canada, and Switzerland.|
(asthma weed, Lobelia inflata, pukeweed, vomit wort)
|Coughing, bronchitis, asthma, smoking cessation (possibly ineffective).||Toxicity; overdose can cause fast heartbeat, very low blood pressure, coma, possibly death.||Likely unsafe. The FDA warned in 1993 that it was linked to serious adverse events.|
(yohimbine, Corynanthe yohimbi, Corynanthe johimbi)
|Aphrodisiac, chest pain, diabetic complications, depression; erectile dysfunction (possibly effective).||Usual doses can cause high blood pressure, rapid heart rate; high doses can cause severe low blood pressure, heart problems, death.||Possibly unsafe for use without medical supervision because it contains a prescription drug, yohimbine. The FDA warned in 1993 that reports of serious adverse events were under investigation.|