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Danger Lurking in Some Dietary Supplements?

Consumer Reports ID's ‘Dirty Dozen’ of ‘Dangerous’ Ingredients; Industry Takes Issue With Report
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 3, 2010 -- A dozen ingredients commonly found in dietary supplements should be avoided, according to a new report, because they are linked to cancer, coma, kidney and liver damage, heart problems, and death.

Compiled by Consumer Reports, the report singles out 12 dietary supplement ingredients termed the ''dirty dozen." "The dozen we call out in this report are by no means the only dangerous ingredients," Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor at Consumer Reports, tells WebMD. "They are the ones we chose to highlight."

A spokesperson for the supplement industry calls the report ''a little bit sensationalized."

Dangers of Dietary Supplements: A Closer Look

Researchers from Consumer Reports worked with experts from the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, an independent research group, first identifying from a database of nearly 1,100 ingredients a group of about 25 ingredients that had been linked to serious problems either by research studies or case reports.

Next, they whittled down the list to the 12, evaluating adverse events as well as how available the ingredients were and how aggressively the products containing them are promoted, Metcalf says. ''It's to a certain extent a subjective thing," she says of the process. She and her colleagues combed medical literature and other data to arrive at the list of 12 that Consumer Reports advises people to avoid.

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.

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