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Hidden dangers in vitamins, supplements?
A new Consumer Reports investigation examines 10 unknown dangers associated with vitamins, herbs and supplements.
August 2nd, 2012
11:59 AM ET

Hidden dangers in vitamins, supplements?

Vitamins and supplements could do more harm than good in some cases, according to a new report in Consumer Reports.

The report, in Consumer Reports' September issue, investigates 10 unknown dangers associated with taking vitamins, minerals, herbs, and nutritional supplements. More than half of all Americans take supplements, and the supplement industry has grown to a $27 billion industry.

But supplements aren't necessarily risk-free, according to Dr. Jose Mosquera, medical adviser for Consumer Reports. While patients may believe supplements are safe because they are natural, he says not all supplements are truly all-natural.

Between 2007 and mid-April 2012, the Food and Drug Administration received more than 6,300 reports of serious adverse events linked to dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbs, according to Consumer Reports. The reports include 115 deaths and more than 2,100 hospitalizations.

Supplements should only be taken when there is a true deficiency, Mosquera says, and people should talk to their doctors before starting a supplement.

“Supplements and vitamins should never be a substitute for a healthy lifestyle with a nutritional plan,” he says. He adds that it’s better to get vitamins from healthy eating than from taking supplements.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), an association representing dietary supplement manufacturers, counters, “There is a strong body of scientific evidence that supports the benefits of dietary supplements and these products have a very strong profile for safety.”

However, Consumer Reports says some supposedly natural products are laced with the same active ingredients in prescription drugs, and people often experience unwanted side effects while taking the supplements.

The supplements for body building, enhancing sexual performance, and losing weight are the most likely to be laced, says Mosquera. He advises, “Protect yourself by trying to avoid these types of supplements, and have a conversation with your doctor about lifestyle changes.”

The high doses of vitamins and minerals in some supplements present another danger. People that take more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of a nutrient could have adverse reactions.

Existing laws make it difficult for the FDA to regulate problematic supplements, according to the report. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, most manufacturers don’t need FDA approval to sell dietary supplements, and the FDA must prove a supplement is unsafe before taking it off the market.

The report also cautions that the FDA doesn’t require supplements to have warning labels unless they contain iron. For example, some products with St. John’s Wort don’t warn that it is known to reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills and blood thinners.

No supplement has been shown to cure a major disease, says the report. New evidence shows that even Omega-3 pills, widely believed to reduce the risk of heart disease, may not be as effective as once thought.

More than 150 million Americans take dietary supplements each year, the Council for Responsible Nutrition notes.

"Consumers need to be savvy and buy from companies with strong brand reputations or look for those that have third party certification on their labels," the council says. "It is also important for consumers to talk to their health care professionals and understand that dietary supplements are intended to supplement a healthy diet and do not serve as substitutes for drugs."


soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. zdwbmwbnkwvd

    cyywomqbfxhh

    June 11, 2013 at 09:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kiersten Jauhar

    Under FDA regulations at 21 CFR part 111, all domestic and foreign companies that manufacture, package, label or hold dietary supplement, including those involved with testing, quality control, and dietary supplement distribution in the U.S., must comply with the Dietary Supplement Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) for quality control.;.::

    Bye http://healthfitnessbook.comdp

    June 20, 2013 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Robert Smith

    Hey, I thought this was a awesome article. Thank you for sharing.

    http://www.poweropen.org

    June 14, 2014 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sarah

    You failed to mention what the 10 dangers were....hello

    June 18, 2014 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alex

      Sarah: The 10 dangers section is hyperlinked by the word "report" near the beginning of the article.

      June 18, 2014 at 15:40 | Report abuse |
  5. Glenn

    There are few hidden dangers in supplements. The government wants to REGULATE them so you have to go to a doctor to order vitamins, which would be criminal. Not everyone can afford to go to the doctors, sometimes taking supplements that a doctor OK's and buying them on your own like herbs can be great for one's health. In the 1990s the U.S. government went after vitamins and there was a tremendous backlash against the government that intrudes in our lives way too much already.

    June 18, 2014 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • nonovyerbeezwax

      Oh, baloney. Vitamins and supplements SHOULD be regulated and the companies that manufacture them should be forced to comply with the same stringent testing as the pharmaceutical companies' medications.

      They're not "harmless." They ARE unproven. They are little more than snake-oil.

      June 24, 2014 at 17:50 | Report abuse |
  6. T

    This is completely false... Please stop feeding the Medical Industry... there have been 10 UNCONFIRMED deaths attributted to "over use of vitamins"... There have been 10's of thousands of confirmed death's caused by prescription drugs this year... You can never over eat veggies and fruits or vitamins...

    June 18, 2014 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paul

      I agree with you – for smiles & giggles, I googled "Vitamin Overdose" and searched in the news. Not one article comes back about anyone dying from a vitamin overdose. The sad thing – there is no money to be made in health.

      June 19, 2014 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • Off-topic Timmy

      Nonsense. Supplements can and have resulted in toxicity. Just because you can't find it doesn't mean it doesn't occur. I suggest you improve your research skills.

      June 23, 2014 at 23:24 | Report abuse |
    • nonovyerbeezwax

      Hypervitaminosis refers to a condition of high storage levels of vitamins, which can lead to toxic symptoms. The medical names of the different conditions are derived from the vitamin involved: an excess of vitamin A, for example, is called hypervitaminosis A.

      Generally, toxic levels of vitamins are achieved through high supplement intake and not from dietary sources. Toxicities of fat-soluble vitamins can also be caused by a large intake of highly fortified foods, but foods rarely deliver dangerous levels of fat-soluble vitamins.[1]

      The Dietary Reference Intake recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture define a "tolerable upper intake level" for most vitamins.

      High dosage vitamin A; high dosage, slow release vitamin B3; and very high dosage vitamin B6 alone (i.e. without vitamin B complex) are sometimes associated with vitamin side effects that usually rapidly cease with supplement reduction or cessation.

      June 24, 2014 at 22:18 | Report abuse |
  7. Kate Johnson

    "Between 2007 and mid-April 2012, the Food and Drug Administration received more than 6,300 reports of serious adverse events linked to dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbs, according to Consumer Reports. The reports include 115 deaths and more than 2,100 hospitalizations." Just some context for these numbers:

    Acetaminophen sends 55,000 to 80,000 people to the emergency room in the U.S. EACH YEAR and kills at least 500, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

    In 2010 alone over 22,000 people in the US died from pharmaceutical drugs

    Obviously supplements need to be used with caution, like anything else. However this article strikes me as a little on the hysterical side with some clear and obvious bias, and like many other studies of studies, uses only those studies that reenforce their hypothesis and throws out the ones that don't. In the rush to deify science, we need to remember science is conducted by humans who are often arrogant, imminently corruptible, agenda based, biased and capable of making serious errors. Many things "science" has told us in the past have been incorrect, or significantly changed, yet at the time, they were utterly convinced that they were completely correct, and anyone who disagreed with them, was backwards. (eggs are good for you, eggs are bad for you, no eggs are good for you). It's not like you can go in and ask your doctor about supplements, as they know little about the pharmaceutical drugs they prescribe (usually just going by what the pharmaceutical reps tell them), let alone anything about supplements. You have to do your own research and use at your own risk.

    There also the fact that medical reporting (like almost all reporting here in the US) is so completely awful, making conclusions the data doesn't support, acting as if huge long range longitudinal studies and studies that were conducted in somebodies garage with 3 people are equal in their scientific validity, because in the end their stories that are clearly more about spin than about anything factual.

    June 18, 2014 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • susanhelit

      You realize that supplements don't even have as many controls as the science you are picking apart? No one has to prove nor peer review anything about them.

      June 18, 2014 at 17:04 | Report abuse |
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      Don't confuse Kate with any facts. She's a zealot.

      June 18, 2014 at 19:35 | Report abuse |
  8. george sadler

    Jeez. A doctor condemns supplements, then gives you a drug that will likely make you worse or kill you. If doctors could prescribe these supplements and get paid for doing so they would be telling you to take them. Doctors are hypocrites. Do no harm. When will they start heeding their oath.

    June 18, 2014 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      ALL doctors are "hypocrites"? Really?

      Come on. Doctors don't prescribe supplements because there's no proof they actually WORK.

      June 18, 2014 at 19:36 | Report abuse |
  9. Emile_Mervin

    The pharmaceutical industry appears to work in tandem with the doctors across America, because doctors prescribe medicines from the pharmaceutical industry on a trial basis to determine how they work on patients, then report the effects back to the industry. I once suffered from severe acid reflux and was treated by my doctor with an assortment of drugs, including Prilosec and Nexium. He then added Vitamin D 800 to Nexium when the latter was discovered to brittle the bones. A co-worker suggested I research the effects of Organic Honey and Apple Cider Vinegar, and after taking two table spoos of each with 8 ounces of water everyday, my reflux abated. This is what I consider alternative medicine, and if this spreads, the pharmaceutical industry will be in trouble. The industry also has highly paid lobbyists who work the corridors of power in Washington (and make political contributions) to protect the industry's interests, which include defending against the Dr. Ozes of America who are turning to alternative medicine at great cost to the pharmaceutical industry.

    June 18, 2014 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nonovyerbeezwax

      You're citing that charlatan, Oz? Please don't make me laugh. The guy is a snake-oil salesman if ever there was one.

      Sorry, but I don't rely on doofuses who post on the internet or "doctors" who don't actually practice medicine because they're too busy making a quick million on TV. I rely on good MDs, decent research, and some education. Maybe you should try those, too.

      June 18, 2014 at 19:38 | Report abuse |
  10. Hurleys

    The point is that prescription and OTC drugs have been tested and there is a known benefit and known side effects. You can make an informed decision. Most supplements have no proven benefit, and the side effects are not known. According to the 1994 law, the supplement manufacturers do not have to show a benefit, just that the supplement does no harm. Because they want to make maximal profit (just like the MDs and Big Pharma), minimal safety testing is done by supplement manufacturers. By law, FDA cannot become involved unless there is shown to be a danger to the public. Almost literally, people must be dropping in the streets, as with ephedra, before FDA can even look at anything which is called a "supplement".

    June 23, 2014 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
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