4 Steps to Safe Supplements

How to find dietary supplements that are most likely to help your health—and the ones that could harm it. 

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A dozen ingredients in widely available supplements are linked by clinical research or case reports to serious heart, liver, and kidney problems and should be avoided, according to a recent investigation by Consumer Reports.

On CR’s “Dirty Dozen” list of dangerous compounds are: aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe.

In the US, supplements are considered as foods. Current laws require the FDA to prove that a supplement is harmful, rather than charging its manufacturer to prove the supplement is safe and effective, as is required with drugs.

In 2004, the FDA banned one supplement ingredient (ephedrine alkaloids) based on data showing it posed an “unreasonable risk” for illness or injury, particularly in people with heart failure and high blood pressure.

To find supplements that are most likely to help, and not harm, your health:

Talk to your health care providers about the products you use and the ones you are considering, especially if you are pregnant or nursing, take medicines for a chronic disease, or plan to have surgery.

Look for “USP Verified” on the label. The United States Pharmacopeia sets standards for the quality, purity, and strength of dietary supplements and posts a list of verified products on its website at www.uspverified.org. USP testing is voluntary.

Report problems. Tell your health care providers if you experience any symptoms after starting a supplement. To alert the FDA about serious side effects, go to the FDA website at http://www.fda.gov/medwatch or call  800-332-1088.

Do your homework. Be wary about supplement claims in ads, on TV and by sales staff. Seek out reliable sources for assessing supplements, including www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/herb_All.html and nccam.nih.gov/.

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