5 On Your Side

Weak regulation belies healthy image of dietary supplement industry

Posted July 27
Updated July 28

With sales topping $40 billion each year, dietary supplements are a huge business.

Many supplements though are not as safe as consumers think.

Each year, 23,000 people end up in an emergency room after taking a supplement. A Consumer Reports investigation calls out 15 potentially harmful ingredients being sold right now.

Supplements are easy to get and also carry an aura of being natural, and, because of that, some people believe they are safer.

Consumer Reports found 50 percent of Americans believe supplements are tested for effectiveness, and 38 percent think they're tested for safety by the Food and Drug Administration.

“For the most part, supplement makers don’t have to prove that their products are safe," said Jeneen Interlandi, Consumer Reports health editor. "They don’t have to prove that they work as advertised. And they don’t have to prove that packages contain what the labels say that they do.

“Because the regulations are so weak, dietary supplements can be contaminated. They can be ineffective. They can be spiked with illegal or prescription drugs and they can have harmful side effects.”

The Council for Responsible Nutrition, which represents supplement manufacturers, says supplements are adequately regulated and the vast majority are safe.

To avoid serious health hazards, though, Consumer Reports says to steer clear of 15 ingredients, which have been linked to health concerns and are in products sold by major retailers.

One example is yohimbe, which is used for obesity, sexual dysfunction and depression. But it can raise blood pressure and heart rate, cause headaches, panic attacks, seizures, liver and kidney problems, and possibly death.

Consumer Reports believes the best way to protect the public is to have stronger federal regulation of supplements.

Many supplements can also have dangerous interactions with prescription drugs. So, tell your doctor if you're taking any before you start a new prescription.

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