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Published on May 22, 2009 by Edgar Snyder

"Natural" Supplements: Know the Dangers

Experts warn that supplements can be dangerous

Though many people think looking for "natural" or "herbal" on product labels means that supplements are safe, experts want to set the record straight. They say that although some doctors recommend supplements and millions of people try them each year as an alternative to traditional medications, consumers have to be careful about what they are buying.

There are a number of drawbacks to the $1.9 billion supplement industry, say health experts. They say that consumers should be aware of the following facts:

  1. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not test supplements before they are made available to the public. And even though the government can recall supplements if a problem is identified, this is a rare occurrence.
  2. It is difficult for consumers to become educated on what they're buying. This is because the full ingredient list may not be available or may not be written in easy to understand language.
  3. The science on supplements is often conflicting, with some saying they're helpful and others saying they're dangerous. For example, some studies have found that vitamin E helps the heart, but additional research has shown that taking too much can dangerously thin the blood.
  4. Some ingredients may not be listed on the label. Consumer Reports stated that from January 2007 to September 2007 the FDA issued nine safety alerts that warned consumers to stop using 13 brands marketed as dietary supplements. Testing indicated the supplements contained prescription medications. In addition, Consumer Lab reported that more than 30 percent of multivitamins that they tested were contaminated with lead.

Nutritionists and dieticians say that there are worthwhile supplements out there if you know how to find them. Alegent Health dietician Toni Kuehneman recommends website QuackWatch.com, and Roberta Anding, director of sports nutrition at Texas Children's Hospital, uses ConsumerLabs.com. Anding also recommends purchasing brand names over unknown ones and advises patients to ask their pharmacist for advice.

Source: "Supplements Can Do Good or Cause Harm." ThePittsburghChannel.com. May 2009.
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