12 Dangerous Dietary Supplements
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12 Dangerous Dietary Supplements

These unregulated "natural" supplements have been found by Consumer Reports to cause major, even life-threatening, health problems.

From Andro to Comfrey

Just because it's "natural" doesn't mean it's innocuous. Consumer Reports hopes to get that message across with its recent publication of a "dirty dozen" list -- 12 supplements the magazine recommends the public avoid. Often sold under different names in single or multi-ingredient combination products, these supplements have been implicated in cancer, severe liver or kidney damage, heart problems, and even death. While all supplements are not equally dangerous, consumers need to take responsibility when it comes to using them: "You should buy products from a company or source that you know and trust," says Judy Blatman of the Council for Responsible Nutrition in Washington, D.C. "In addition, you should consult with your healthcare professional about any supplements you are considering taking." In the meantime, think twice before putting the following supplements in your shopping basket. Consumer Reports rated them as definitely hazardous, very likely hazardous, and likely hazardous. Here's what you need to know: Common name: Androstenedione (or andro, for short) What it is used for: Ups blood levels of testosterone and is often used by athletes for bodybuilding. Baseball player Mark McGuire famously used the substance. Possible danger: Increases cancer risks; decreases HDL, or "good" cholesterol Consumer Reports rating: Very likely hazardous Common name: Aristolochic acid What it's used for: Found in traditional Chinese medicines used in treating such ailments as eczema, endometriosis, and backache Possible danger: Linked to kidney failure and cancer Consumer Reports rating: Definitely hazardous Common name: Bitter orange What it is used for: Works like ephedra, the stimulant used for weight loss, which was banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004. Possible danger: High blood pressure; increased risk of heart arrhythmias, heart attack, and strokes with its use Consumer Reports rating: Likely hazardous Common name: Chaparral What it is used for: Has been marketed as a "blood purifier," cancer cure, and acne treatment Possible danger: Linked to abnormal liver function that is often irreversible Consumer Reports rating: Very likely hazardous Common name: Comfrey What it is used for: Drunk as a tea or "green beverage" for stomach ulcers or as a "blood purifier" Possible danger: Contains toxins called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which have been linked to abnormal liver function or damage, often irreversible, when taken internally. Deaths have been reported. Consumer Reports rating: Very likely hazardous

Germander to Yohimbe

Common name: Germander What it is used for: Often used in weight-control formulations Possible danger: Linked to abnormal liver function that is often irreversible Consumer Reports rating: Very likely hazardous Common name: Kava (or kava kava) What it is used for: Soothes stress and anxiety Possible danger: Linked to abnormal liver function Consumer Reports rating: Very likely hazardous Common name: Lobelia What it is used for: An herbal treatment for asthma, bronchitis, and coughing Possible danger: Difficulty breathing and rapid heart rates may result from its use Consumer Reports rating: Likely hazardous Common name: Organ/glandular extracts What it is used for: Treating disorders such as chronic hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus Possible danger: Theoretical risk of mad cow disease, particularly from brain extracts Consumer Reports rating: Likely hazardous Common name: Pennyroyal oil What it is used for: Used topically as an insect repellent and disinfectant and internally for digestive and liver disorders Possible danger: Associated with liver and kidney failure, nerve damage, convulsions, abdominal tenderness, and burning of the throat. Deaths have been reported even with ingestion of tiny amounts; even topical application can be dangerous. Consumer Reports rating: Likely hazardous Common name: Skullcap What it is used for: Relieves anxiety and insomnia Possible danger: Abnormal liver damage Consumer Reports rating: Likely hazardous Common name: Yohimbe What it is used for: A men's aphrodisiac sometimes referred to as "herbal Viagra" Possible danger: Blood pressure changes, heartbeat irregularities, and heart attacks have been reported with its use. Consumer Reports rating: Likely hazardous

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding a specific condition.

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