The Dark Side of Supplements

by admin on October 30, 2014

Generic SupplementsIf you take a vitamin or some sort of supplement, you are not alone.  About half of all American adults take vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids or some other dietary supplement each day to maintain or improve their health.  The supplement industry is booming with over 85,000 products available people in the U.S. spending $32 billion a year to get them.

But if you are hoping dietary supplements are going to help prevent heart disease, you may be disappointed.  For instance, one of most popular daily multivitamins on the market doesn’t lower the risk of heart disease, and most studies conducted on others have only limited evidence of any benefits.  This is because currently supplements can be sold without having to prove their effectiveness or if they are safe – even if the bottle states that they work.

However, some studies have shown that garlic supplements could help people with high blood pressure reduce their blood pressure by 8 percent.  But before you start popping garlic pills, check with your doctor.  Some garlic supplements may interact with other drugs you are taking such as warfarin (Coumadin), which is often prescribed for people with heart disease.  Also, don’t trust the labels to tell you about possible interactions with prescription drugs, as some companies don’t mention it.

Garlic isn’t the only supplement with results on the market.  Red yeast rice supplements had a positive rating when it comes to lowering cholesterol. But the studies also noted that not all red yeast rice supplements contained the same amount of the positive active ingredient.  Some contained high amounts, while others had very little – and thus, were less effective in lowering cholesterol.

Another thing to research when thinking about taking supplements is the risk of contamination. In the case of the red yeast rice supplement research, one study found one-third of the products were contaminated with a kidney toxin called citrinin.

This contamination is more common that you think.   A 2014 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that more than 500 supplements had pharmaceuticals added to them that weren’t mentioned as ingredients.  They ranged from stimulants and antidepressants to weight-loss medications and supplements for erectile dysfunction.

So should you give up on supplements? Are they all bad? No, not at all. But you should be supplement-smart when choosing one.

It’s recommended to choose ones with a single-ingredient.  The simpler they are, the less likely some other ingredient (or combination of ingredients) will have an unexpected effect.  Also, look for supplements with the USP or NSF stamp.  The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and NSF International are independent, non-government organizations that test the strength of dietary supplements and double-check that they contain only the listed ingredients.

If you are curious, you can check out the research done on supplements on the MedlinePlus website (

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