Supplements are easier to get than prescription drugs and they carry an aura of being more natural and thus safer. A Consumer Reports survey finds 50 percent of Americans believe that supplement makers test their products for effectiveness. And 38 percent believe that supplements are tested for safety by the Food and Drug Administration.
For the most part, supplement makers don’t have to prove that their products are safe or that they work as advertised. And they don’t have to prove that packages contain what the labels say they do. Because the regulations are so weak, dietary supplements can be contaminated, ineffective or spiked with illegal or prescription drugs, and they can cause harmful side effects.
In response, the Council for Responsible Nutrition representing supplement manufacturers says that supplements are adequately regulated and that the vast majority are safe. However, Consumer Reports has identified 15 supplement ingredients to avoid that have been linked to serious health hazards.
For example, people use yohimbe for obesity, sexual dysfunction and depression. But it can raise blood pressure and heart rate, and cause headaches, panic attacks, seizures, liver and kidney problems, and possibly death.
Yet Consumer Reports found those 15 supplement ingredients in products sold by major retailers such as GNC, Costco, CVS, Walmart and Whole Foods.
Consumer Reports believes the best way to protect the public is to have stronger federal regulation of supplements.
Consumer Reports cautions that many supplements can also interact in dangerous ways with prescription drugs.
So you should tell your doctor what supplements you are taking before you start a new prescription.
You can get Consumer Reports’ complete list of supplements to avoid at ConsumerReports.org/ingredientstoavoid.