Are Supplements Safe?
Potential Risks of Using Dietary
Although certain products may be helpful to
some people, there may be circumstances when these products
can pose unexpected risks. Many supplements contain active
ingredients that can have strong effects in the body. Taking a
combination of supplements, using these products together with
medicine, or substituting them in place of prescribed
medicines could lead to harmful, even life-threatening
results. Also, some supplements can have unwanted effects
before, during, and after surgery. It is important to let your
doctor and other health professionals know about the vitamins,
minerals, botanicals, and other products you are taking,
especially before surgery.
Here a few examples of dietary supplements believed to
interact with specific drugs:
|Calcium and heart
medicine (e.g., Digoxin), thiazide diuretics (Thiazide),
and aluminum and magnesium-containing antacids.
|Magnesium and thiazide
and loop diuretics (e.g., Lasix®, etc.), some cancer
drugs (e.g., Cisplatin, etc.), and magnesium-containing
|Vitamin K and a blood
thinner (e.g., Coumadin).
|St. John's Wort and
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs (i.e.,
anti-depressant drugs and birth control pills).|
What Should I Know Before Using Dietary
Be savvy! Follow these tips before buying a
|Remember: Safety First.
Some supplement ingredients, including nutrients and plant
components, can be toxic based on their activity in your
body. Do not substitute a dietary supplement for a
prescription medicine or therapy.
|Think twice about chasing the
latest headline. Sound health advice is generally
based on research over time, not a single study touted by
the media. Be wary of results claiming a "quick
fix" that depart from scientific research and
established dietary guidance.
|Learn to Spot False Claims.
Remember: "If something sounds too good to be true,
it probably is." Some examples of false claims on
|Quick and effective
|Can treat or cure disease.
|"Totally safe," "all
natural," and has "definitely no side
|Limited availability, "no-risk,
money-back guarantees," or requires advance
|More may not be better. Some products can
be harmful when consumed in high amounts, for a long time,
or in combination with certain other substances.
|The term "natural" doesn't
always mean safe. Do not assume that this term ensures
wholesomeness or safety. For some supplements,
"natural" ingredients may interact with
medicines, be dangerous for people with certain health
conditions, or be harmful in high doses. For example, tea
made from peppermint leaves is generally considered safe
to drink, but peppermint oil (extracted from the leaves)
is much more concentrated and can be toxic if used
|Is the product worth the money? Resist
the pressure to buy a product or treatment "on the
spot." Some supplement products may be expensive or
may not provide the benefit you expect. For example,
excessive amounts of water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin
C and B vitamins, are not used by the body and are
eliminated in the urine.|
|Learn about the optimum level of intake
your body needs. Your body will use what it needs and
discard the rest. Not everyone has the same level of need
of each vitamin or mineral. It is important to supply your
body with access to these and allow it to take what it
How do I know if the supplement that I
purchased contains the ingredients that it claims on the label
or if it is contaminated?
You should be aware that the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not analyze the
content of dietary supplements. At this time, supplement
manufacturers must meet the requirements of the FDA’s Good
Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) for foods. GMPs
describe conditions under which products must be prepared,
packed, and stored. Food GMPs do not always cover all issues
of supplement quality. Some manufacturers voluntarily
follow the FDA's GMPs for drugs, which are stricter. (Read
about the differences between these two standards..)
Some manufacturers use the term
"standardized" to describe efforts to make their
products consistent. However, U.S. law does not define
standardization. Therefore, the use of this term (or similar
terms such as "verified" or "certified")
does not guarantee product quality or consistency.
So the answer is you don't know if the
supplement you just purchased contains what the label says
or if contaminated products were used in the manufacture.
Contact the Manufacturer
If you have questions about a specific brand
of dietary supplements, you can contact the manufacturer for
more information. Ask to speak to someone who can address your
questions, some of which may include:
- What information does the firm have to
substantiate the claims made for the product? Be aware
that sometimes firms supply so-called "proof" of
their claims by citing undocumented reports from satisfied
consumers, or graphs and charts that could be mistaken for
well conducted scientific research.
- Does the firm have information to share
about tests it has conducted on the safety or efficacy of
the ingredients in the product?
- Does the firm follow good manufacturing
practices and have a quality control system in place to
determine if the product actually contains what is stated
on the label and is free of contaminants?
- Has the firm received any adverse events
reports from consumers using their products?
Seals of Approval
There are a few independent
organizations that offer “seals of approval” that may be
displayed on certain dietary supplement products. These
indicate that the product has passed the organization’s
quality tests for things such as potency and contaminants.
These “seals of approval” do not mean that the product is
safe or effective; they provide assurance that the product was
properly manufactured, that it contains the ingredients listed
on the label and that it does not contain harmful levels of
Links to Seals of Approval
The following is a list of several
organizations offering these programs: