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"Dirty Dozen" Supplements Named; Industry Responds

Posted: August 5, 2010

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On the list are these ingredients, their uses and what evidence Consumer Reports has they may lead to problems:

  • Aconite, used for joint pain, wounds, gout and inflammation, but linked with nausea, vomiting, heart rhythm disorders, respiratory system paralysis and death.
  • Bitter orange, used for weight loss, allergies and nasal congestion, but linked with fainting, heart rhythm disorder, heart attack, stroke and death.
  • Chaparral, used for weight loss, colds, infections, inflammation, cancer and detoxification, but linked to kidney and liver problems.
  • Colloidal silver, used for fungal and other infections, Lyme disease, rosacea, psoriasis, food poisoning, chronic fatigue syndrome and HIV/AIDS, but linked to bluish skin color, mucous membrane discoloration, neurological problems and kidney damage.
  • Coltsfoot, used for cough, sore throat, laryngitis, bronchitis and asthma, but linked to cancer and liver damage.
  • Comfrey, used for cough, heavy menstrual periods, chest pain, and cancer, but linked to liver damage and cancer.
  • Country mallow, used for allergies, asthma, weight loss, bronchitis and nasal congestion, but linked to heart attack and arrhythmia, stroke, and death.
  • Germanium, used for pain, infections, glaucoma, liver problems, arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and cancer, but linked to kidney damage and death.
  • Greater celandine, used for upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders, detoxification and cancer, but linked to liver damage.
  • Kava, used for anxiety (and is possibly effective, according to Consumer Reports), but linked to liver damage.
  • Lobelia, used for coughs, bronchitis, asthma, smoking cessation, but linked to toxicity, with overdose linked with fast heartbeat, very low blood pressure, coma, and possible death.
  • Yohimbe, used as an aphrodisiac, for chest pain or diabetic complications, depression and erectile dysfunction (and possibly effective, according to Consumer Reports), but linked to high blood pressure and rapid heart rate at usual doses and at high doses linked to severe low blood pressure, heart problems and death.

The possible problems listed for each are based on either case reports or clinical research, Metcalf tells WebMD. The report updates a previous investigation on supplements done by Consumer Reports, Metcalf says. The publication thought it important to update the information, she says, as ''half the adult population takes some supplement."

In 2009, more than $26 billion was spent in the United States on supplements, according to the Nutrition BusinessJournal, a trade publication. In the past five years, supplement sales have increased by nearly 6% a year, according to Carla Ooyen, a spokeswoman for the publication.

Despite the popularity of supplements, Metcalf says, "You need to be extremely careful about buying nutritional supplements, because there are several different ways they can be harmful."

Some supplements, she says, include ingredients that can be ''inherently harmful" and lack proof of effectiveness.