Natural remedies have been popular for ages and most people have tried them. Anyone can stroll down the drugstore aisle or search on Amazon for fish oil with its omega-3 fatty acids to help manage blood pressure, glucosamine to treat arthritis, turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties, and the hundreds of other options that are available.
While many of these supplements do not pose a health threat, taking them with certain medications or from a non-credible source can end up making you terribly sick. In fact, the FDA recently reported in early October 2018 that about 800 dietary supplements sold between 2007 - 2017 contained illegal ingredients. How much do you know about the dietary supplements that you’re taking?
How Do I Know if My Supplements are Safe?
Just because a popular big box store sells a supplement or if the label says “natural” doesn’t mean that it’s safe to use. Here are some ways that you can make sure you’re taking the right supplements correctly:
Talk to your doctor first - Many times supplements can cause a negative drug interaction with the current medications you’re taking. For example, St. John’s wort - which has been attributed to helping with depression, insomnia, and anxiety - can reduce the effectiveness of many drugs including antidepressants and birth control pills. Or Vitamins C and E can reduce the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy treatments. Taking too much of a certain vitamin can also cause liver damage, so read what’s in your multi-vitamin along with the ingredients in your supplements.
Supplements are NOT FDA approved - The FDA isn’t responsible for reviewing them for safety and effectiveness. So who IS responsible? The manufacturers and distributors. If a new ingredient is introduced in a product, the FDA will review it to make sure its safe, but the claims for effectiveness lies solely on the company that’s making it. The company is responsible for keeping their product free of impurities and contaminants and is expected to put on the label that they followed the FDA’s “Good Manufacturing Practice”.
Research the supplement company - All supplements are NOT created equal and the potency and safety can vary by company. There are three reputable resources that test to make sure that the supplements are manufactured properly and don’t contain contaminants, but they do NOT test for safety or effectiveness. These companies are U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, NSF International, so look for their “seals of approval”.
Don’t believe all the claims - While many natural remedies have been shown to help patients, don’t believe everything you read about them. The supplement companies are required to present some evidence that their products are safe and that the label claims are truthful, but they do not have to provide that evidence to the FDA to sell to consumers. (Which is why you’ll find this disclaimer on all the bottles: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”)
Approximately 50% of adults take dietary supplements making it a $35 billion industry!!! What’s terrifying is that in the nearly 800 supplements that the FDA found to have illegal ingredients, only half of them were recalled. It’s ironic how so many people take supplements to improve their health, but many times the opposite result can happen. Talk to your doctor to ensure that dangerous drug interactions don’t occur and research where your supplements are coming from… your body depends on it!