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12 Dangerous Dietary Supplements

 

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

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.