Dietary supplements such as herbals, vitamins and minerals have become so mainstream that even some doctors are recommending them to their patients. However, a recent report questions not only their effectiveness but also their safety.
Half of Americans regularly take vitamins and other mineral supplements, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, and many doctors regularly prescribe them. More than nine out of 10 physicians recommend minerals or vitamins for some patients, while about four out of 10 recommend herbal supplements.
But these dietary supplements can be more harmful than healthy, depending on their active ingredients.
For example, the claimed benefits of comfrey herb — also called slippery root and blackwort — include treating cancer. But one of its risks of taking comfrey is actually cancer itself, according to a new report from Consumer Reports.
The problem is that supplements don’t undergo rigorous testing to prove their efficacy or even their safety, unlike prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicine. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration can act on questionable ingredients only after they are on the store shelf, not before.
But many consumers think these supplements have been tested for effectiveness, and more than half believe supplement makers must prove their products’ safety, according to Consumer Reports.
The non-profit magazine worked with a panel of doctors and researchers to identify 15 common ingredients in dietary supplements that can pose real health risks, from liver damage to cardiac arrest to death.
These are not uncommon ingredients, either. Consumer Reports found supplements containing these risky ingredients being sold at major retailers across the country, including Whole Foods, GNC and Costco. Pharmacists and salespeople at these retailers were not aware of the potentially harmful ingredients when approached by secret shoppers.
So how can you protect yourself? The first step is to know what to look for. Click here to see the 15 ingredients you should avoid in supplements.