Consumer Reports finds a number of ingredients found in popular supplements from trusted retailers can cause organ damage, cardiac arrest, and cancer.
Most of want to believe in the power of dietary supplements, and why not? Taking a pill that harnesses the magic of natural ingredients for a quick kapow of health or wellness is an undeniably seductive concept. So seductive, in fact, that it’s become a $40 billion a year industry. Vitamins, herbs, minerals, botanicals – these are good, right? The problem is that many of them don’t work, according to no end of experts. And even more concerning is that they don’t require FDA approval before hitting the shelves; the FDA has to prove a supplement is not safe before it can remove it from the market.
The lack of regulation is an anomaly in the United States, it’s more like the wild west than modern day business. High profit margin anarchy. How bad is it? Some 23,000 people a year end up in the emergency room after taking a supplement. Dozens of deaths have been reported.
With all of this in mind, Consumer Reports took a good hard look at supplements with an expert panel of independent doctors and dietary-supplement researchers. The fruits of their works, so to speak, is a list of 15 supplement ingredients that have the potential to be harmful – ingredients that the panel suggests should always be avoided.
The risks include, among other abhorrent possibilities, organ damage, cancer, and cardiac arrest. Notes the report:
The severity of these threats often depends on such factors as pre-existing medical conditions as well as the quantity of the ingredient taken and the length of time a person has been exposed to the substance. Many of the ingredients on this list also have the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as cholesterol-lowering statins and blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin and generic).
The experts concluded that none of the listed supplements offer enough benefits to justify the risk. (You can download the methodology PDF here.) And if you’re thinking that these were found in back-alley herb shops, consider this: Each of the following ingredients were found in products available online or in major stores such as GNC, Costco, CVS, Walmart, and Whole Foods, notes the magazine.
Also called known as zconiti tuber, aconitum, angustifolium, monkshood, radix aconti, and wolfsbane. Claims to reduce inflammation, joint pain, and gout; can lead to nausea, vomiting, weakness, paralysis, breathing and heart problems, and possibly death.
2. Caffeine Powder
Also known as 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. Claims to improve attention, enhance athletic performance and weight loss; can lead to seizures, heart arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, possibly death. Particularly dangerous when combined with other stimulants.
Also known as creosote bush, greasewood, larrea divaricata, larrea tridentata, and larreastat. Claimed benefits include weight loss, improves inflammation; treats colds, infections, skin rashes, and cancer; risks include kidney problems, liver damage, and possibly death.
Also known as coughwort, farfarae folium leaf, foalswort, or tussilago farfara. Claims to relieve cough, sore throat, laryngitis, bronchitis, and asthma; can lead to liver damage and is a possible carcinogen.
Also known as blackwort, bruisewort, slippery root, or symphytum officinale. Claims to relieve cough, heavy menstrual periods, stomach problems, chest pain; treats cancer. Risks include liver damage, cancer, and possibly death.
Also called teucrium chamaedrys, or viscidum. Claimed benefits include weight loss; alleviation of fever, arthritis, gout, and stomach problems. Risks include liver damage, hepatitis, and possibly death.
7. Greater Celandine
Also called chelidonium majus or chelidonii herba. Claims to alleviate stomachache, risks include liver damage.
8. Green Tea Extract Powder
Also called Camellia sinensis. Used for weight loss, can lead to dizziness, ringing in the ears, reduced absorption of iron; exacerbates anemia and glaucoma; elevates blood pressure and heart rate; liver damage; possibly death.
Also known as ava pepper, kava kava, and piper methysticum. Is supposed to help with anxiety and insomnia. Can lead to liver damage, exacerbates Parkinson’s and depression, impairs driving, and possibly death.
Also known as asthma weed, lobelia inflata, vomit wort, or wild tobacco. Used to improve respiratory problems and help smoking cessation. Can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, confusion, seizures, hypothermia, coma, and possibly death.
Also called oxilofrine, p-hydroxyephedrine, oxyephedrine, or 4-HMP. Used for weight loss, to increase energy, and improve athletic performance. Risks include heart rate and rhythm abnormalities, cardiac arrest; particularly risky when taken with other stimulants.
12. Pennyroyal Oil
Also called hedeoma pulegioides, or mentha pulegium. Supposed benefits include improvement of breathing problems and digestive disorders. Can lead to liver and kidney failure, nerve damage, convulsions, and possibly death.
13. Red Yeast Rice
Also called monascus purpureus. Claimed benefits include lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and preventing heart disease. Risks include kidney and muscle problems, liver problems, hair loss; can magnify effect of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, increasing the risk of side effects.
14. Usnic Acid
Also called beard moss, tree moss, or usnea. It’s used for weight loss and pain relief; risks include liver injury.
Also known as johimbi, pausinystalia yohimbe, yohimbine, or corynanthe johimbi. Claimed benefits include the treatment of low libido and erectile dysfunction, depression, and obesity. Risks include raised blood pressure; rapid heart rate, headaches, seizures, liver and kidney problems, heart problems, panic attacks, and possibly death.
So what do you think? It feels like quite a pickle to me. While so many of us are striving to ditch pharmaceuticals – which can be so rife with problems – an unregulated market and a careless quest for profit seem to be jeopardizing holistic options. Until better regulation and more transparency are working together to ensure consumer safety, it may be wise to heed Consumer Reports’ advice to avoid these offenders?