Doctors Agree—Stay Away From These Popular Health Supplements

Updated 07/01/19
health supplements
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

The supplements we often turn to as beauty or dietary aids may be doing more harm than good, according to some important new findings from Consumer Reports. Despite populating the shelves at pharmacies and health-food stores across the country, these over-the-counter aids can be contaminated with "dangerous bacteria" and often falsely advertise in terms of their benefits. All signs point to a lack of formalized government regulation surrounding these supplements, which can inadvertently lead to organ damage, cardiac arrest, or even cancer. These are the seven supplement ingredients to stay away from, as reported by Health:

  1. Caffeine powder: Used for weight loss, increased energy, and athletic performance.
  2. Green tea extract powder: Used for weight loss.
  3. Kava: Used for anxiety and insomnia.
  4. Aconite: Used for inflammation, joint pain, and gout.
  5. Chaparral: Used for weight loss, inflammation, colds, rashes, and infections.
  6. Comfrey: Used for cough, heavy periods, stomach problems, and chest pain.
  7. Methylsynephrine: Used for weight loss, increased energy, and athletic performance.

"These products don't always contain what they claim to," explains Ellen Kunes, the health content team leader at Consumer Reports. "That could mean you're just wasting your money on something harmless—but the reality is, a lot of it is not harmless. … Many times, the FDA only gets involved after they get a report that there's a problem." Some lesser side effects of these ingredients may include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, breathing problems, and impaired driving or it could be much more serious than these and cause irreparable damage.

Kunes also warns that consumers need to know that the government regulates supplements as a food, not as a drug. This means companies can often get away with selling their products over the counter without conducting stringent tests first. Government inspections just cannot keep up with the size of the industry.

Probably the most at risk are people with pre-existing medical conditions, who often take supplements in addition to medications that could cause dangerous interactions. The severity of the risks depend on the quality of the ingredients and the length of time they are taken. Dangerous side effects and interactions can also be triggered by taking these with other supplements, not just medications.

Unfortunately, it may not be enough to simply check labels since these ingredients can be listed under other names. You can find their aliases and specific risks published on ConsumerReports.org.

Kunes contends that eating a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, exercising on a regular basis, getting the recommended six to eight hours of sleep every night, and monitoring your stress levels are more than enough to make you feel happy and healthy. "We recommend getting your health from food and healthy habits, rather than popping a pill."

Check out the full list of supplements to avoid over at Health.com, and try monitoring your health using the C25K app.

This post was originally published on September 12, 2016, and has since been updated.

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