Consumer Reports recently reported that some supplements we take on a regular basis may actually be more harm than good. Consumers may not realize that manufacturers of supplements do not have to demonstrate that they are safe and effective before they sell their products to consumers.
Experts at the Institute of Medicine said this year that, “The FDA needs to use the same strict standards to regulate supplements as it uses for drugs, and should ask Congress for more power to regulate supplements.”
The FDA has repeatedly found hazardous ingredients, including synthetic prescription drugs, in supplements, and some natural ingredients can also be hazardous. There have also been claims that supplement sellers tell consumers that they can cure their sickness or replace their costly prescription medications with their supplements.
According to Nutrition Business Journal, in 2009, Americans spent more than $26.7 billion on supplements and the trend only seems to be growing. You can find a supplement pretty much anywhere that claims to cure any aliment or symptom; from a cold, to weight loss, an edge in sports, or just to stay healthy.
Consumer Reports states that, “We have identified a dozen supplement ingredients that we think consumers should avoid because of health risks, including cardiovascular, liver, and kidney problems. We also found products with these ingredients readily available in stores and online.” The report found that a group of ingredients were linked to serious adverse events by clinical research and case reports. The report also factored in whether the ingredients were effective for their claimed uses and how readily available they were to consumers.
The ingredients to avoid, or “dirty dozen” (there are 11) as coined by Consumer Reports, according to studies done by Consumer Reports and Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, are aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe. The FDA has warned about eight of these, some as long ago as 1993.
So why are these toxic ingredients still for sale? The reason is simple: the FDA has not banned them even though they have the authority to immediately remove these supplements from the market. Most of the supplements containing the above ingredients have warning labels, but not all, and these supplements are readily available for anyone to purchase. The FDA did issue a consumer warning about the ingredients silver and colloidal silver, which can turn the skin bluish-gray. The supplement is sold for its supposed immune system support.
The 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), introduced by the supplement industry and is claimed to be very “industry friendly,” makes it difficult for the FDA to put together a case against supplement manufacturers to take their products off the market. Only one product has been taken off the market and that was for the weight-loss product ephedra. It contained the harmful ingredient, ephedrine alkaloids, which caused adverse effects on thousands of consumers, including deaths.
“Because of inadequate quality control and inspection, supplements contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, or prescription drugs, have been sold to unsuspecting consumers,” says Consumer Reports. “The FDA rules covering manufacturing quality don’t apply to the companies that supply herbs, vitamins, and other raw ingredients.”