If you want to get a prescription drug, you have to visit an M.D. But if you want to try a supplement, all it takes is a trip to the neighborhood drugstore. There, you're bound to find shelves filled with dietary supplements, including vitamins, herbs, minerals, and botanicals. And lots of 'em—there are 22 times as many supplements available today compared to 20 years ago, according to a Consumer Reports special report that was published today.
While it might seem like a good thing that these little pills are incredibly easy to get ahold of, it's actually a problem. Some of the supplements currently available on retail store shelves are packed with ingredients that could not only be ineffective in treating what ails you, but may even be harmful and lead to serious issues like organ damage, cancer, and possibly even death.
Consumer Reports lists 15 dangerous ingredients, including yohimbe, which is supposed to treat a low libido but could raise your blood pressure, and green tea extract powder, which is intended to aid weight loss but could cause liver damage. These supplements are a problem for two reasons. One, they're dangerous and can mess with medications you're currently taking, like antidepressants and blood-thinning drugs like aspirin. Two, they're not being checked before they land on store shelves. Supplements are not required to be approved by the FDA, so they're lacking the oversight and testing that other over-the-counter and prescription drugs go through. How risky each one will be for you depends on the quality of the ingredients, how long you've taken them, and your pre-existing medical conditions.
Check out the Consumer Reports story for the full list of supplement ingredients to avoid (and read more about the dangers behind supplements here). Until more checks are required for supplements to end up in the hands of the consumer, your best bet is to hold off on taking them until you can talk it over with a doctor—who may put you on a more tailored-to-you diet and exercise plan to achieve the same results.