The Dangers Of Dietary Supplements And Tips For Safe Use

By:    Published: October 24, 2011

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Dietary supplements are big business in the United States. Some supplements are, indeed, very good for the body, while others can be deadly. According to an article from Consumer Reports, more than half of all American adults take some kind of supplement daily. Many of these include beneficial vitamins and minerals and usually these are very safe as long as they are used responsibly. However many more are taking to treat some type of condition or to lose weight or gain a physical edge in sports and these are not necessarily safe.

Here are some of the possible dangers of dietary supplements.

What is a Dietary Supplement?

Dietary supplements are defined as anything taken to supplement the daily intake of food. These include vitamins, minerals, herb and botanicals, amino acids and enzymes. There are thousands of dietary supplements on the market that claim to improve health and do everything from reduce high cholesterol to increase penis size. Many make claims that seem too good to be true.

What are the Risks?

  • Possible overdose
  • Attempting to replace medicine with supplements
  • Potential for side effects
  • Combined supplement effects
  • Not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Many of the supplements that are commonly used are things like vitamins and minerals. Typically, these are very safe if someone is deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral.  However, it is becoming more and more common for people to take supplements that they really don't need. Most of the vitamins and minerals that people need for good health can be found in the foods they eat. Many foods  like cereals and dairy products are fortified with extra vitamins as well.

Many people, especially those without access to medical care, think that they can use supplements to replace prescription medications. However, this is not the case. While there are many supplements that are able to help people with certain conditions, they don't have the ability to treat any health conditions. If the condition is serious enough to require prescription medication, supplements will not be enough to get the job done.

Everything that people put in their bodies has the potential to cause side effects, even food. Additionally, it is not known how combining supplements will affect someone, so supplements that have many different ingredients could be potentially dangerous or have no affect at all.

Dangers of Dietary Supplements

When someone decides to take a dietary supplement, there is always the risk of side effects when mixed with other medications, especially prescription medications. For example, St. John's Wort interacts with several medications, causing them to break down much faster than they ordinarily would, rendering them ineffective.

Manufacturers are not required to disclose any side effects of supplements, even if the supplement is known to have side effects. For example, comfrey, which is commonly used for treating cold symptoms, is linked to liver damage and cancer. In fact, Consumer Reports identified 12 common supplements that can have serious side effects. It was also noted that the list was incomplete, meaning there is the possibility that many more dietary supplements may cause serious side effects.

Dietary supplements are also often mislabeled. This is seen widely in discount supplements or those sold over the internet. While there is usually a much smaller amount of an active ingredient than the label suggests, making the supplement ineffective, on occasion there have been cases where there is much more of an ingredient than the label states. One case involved more than 100 people being sickened when a supplement contained more than 200 times more selenium than the label stated at 17 times more chromium than was safe.

Supplements have been found to contain contaminants as well, especially those that are sold online. Some contaminants include pesticides, heavy metals, prescription medications and other chemicals called analogs. These are similar to prescription medications, but with a slight variation to their chemical makeup. This is done so that the analog is not detectable by the FDA, but the potent effects remain.

Tips for the Safe Use of Dietary Supplements

Supplements can be very beneficial if used properly. By following these safety tips, people can reduce any risk of adverse effects that they may experience.

  • Avoid "mega dose" products. More is not always better.
  • Always discuss supplements with a doctor to be sure that there are no interactions with prescription medications.
  • Look for the "USP Verified" symbol on the label. This means that the manufacturer has asked the U.S. Pharmacopeia, a non-profit standard setting authority, to verify the quality of the supplement.
  • Check for advisories from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements as well as the FDA.

By following these safety tips and using good judgment, people can find better health with dietary supplements.

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