Don’t Take These Dietary Supplements, CR Says

Consumer Reports says some ingredients can pose serious risks to people who use them. It also warns that pregnant women should avoid many over-the-counter medications.

Don’t Take These Dietary Supplements, CR Says Photo (cc) by Healing and Eating

You may want to think twice before you pop that next pill into your mouth.

According to Consumer Reports, it’s rare that vitamin and mineral supplements improve health. And unfortunately, there are ingredients included in some pills that can be dangerous to consume. CR says you should not take:

  • Kava. Sometimes taken to help relieve stress and anxiety, kava can cause liver damage – including hepatitis and cirrhosis. Better to be stressed than incredibly ill, right?
  • Yohimbe. While doctors sometime use the prescription form of yohimbe to treat erectile dysfunction, the over-the-counter pills have been linked to blood pressure problems (both high and low), as well as rapid heart rate and other issues.
  • Aconite. It can kill you. Really. CR said aconite has been used to help relieve joint pain and inflammation, but its unfortunate side effects include vomiting, nausea, low blood pressure, heart-rhythm disorder, respiratory system paralysis, and death. Steer clear.

Taking dietary supplements can be especially risky because there’s not much regulation or oversight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

CR offered alternatives and tips for safe supplement use, including these:

  • Diet. Instead of relying on supplements to get nutrients, look into changing your diet to meet nutrient needs.
  • Talk to your doctor. Talk to your health care provider before you take any supplement. Also, inform them of any other supplements you are taking to avoid potential unsafe interactions.
  • Risky pills. CR said it’s best to avoid supplement categories that have the most risk for safety recalls – like weight-loss aids, bodybuilding supplements and sex-enhancement pills.

In addition to the three dangerous supplements listed above, if you’re expecting, you have a lengthy list of over-the-counter medications to avoid, including many pain relievers and cough and cold drugs, CR said.

“There’s a misperception that if a drug is available over-the-counter, that it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so it must be safe for everyone, including pregnant women,” Allan Mitchell, M.D. [and] professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health and Medicine, said. “Even doctors can fall for this idea.” But some OTC drugs have been shown to pose risks to the developing fetus at different stages of pregnancy.

Click here for CR’s list of medications that pregnant women should avoid.

If you’re expecting and not sure if a medication is OK to take, Consumer Reports recommends checking consumer website MotherToBaby for up-to-date and reliable information on medications and exposures to other substances. I actually used that site when I was pregnant, and it was helpful. And if you’re in doubt, just call your doctor’s office.

Do you check into the safety of supplements before you take them? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

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