According to The Council for Responsible Nutrition, 77 percent of adults in the United States take dietary supplements. These supplements are available in many forms of pills, capsules, powders, gel tabs, extracts, or liquids. Vitamins and minerals are common supplements and, of these, multivitamins are the most widely consumed. The scientific literature does not support the value or need for supplements, especially for healthy individuals consuming a well-balanced diet. For those with medical problems affecting nutritional absorption, supplements may have merit. However, these over-the-counter products are not regulated by the FDA and for some, may be harmful. Some supplements can interact with your medications. Therefore, before taking any supplements be sure to talk with your medical doctor to be sure it is safe for you. Keep in mind, just because you use herbs for cooking, not all herbs are the same and some can be harmful.
St. John’s Wort is a popular supplement in the USA. It is often used for depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. However, it is not without its side-effects and dangers. Some side effects include: headaches, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth and vulnerability to sunburn. Also, this supplement can be very harmful when taken with some drugs and treatments. Some include; heart medications, antidepressants, birth control pills and chemotherapy treatments
Kava is purported to help with anxiety and insomnia. However, it also may cause liver damage such as hepatitis and should not be taken by those with liver or kidney problems. Kava should not be mixed with alcohol or other drugs that cause drowsiness.
Some believe that Ginkgo can improve memory, circulation, prevent altitude sickness and other scientifically unsupported claims. However, this supplement can thin your blood and cause bleeding. This is especially dangerous if you take blood-thinning medications.
Users claim that oil from this plant can be rubbed into the skin to provide healing from bruising, swelling, and pain. Others take the supplement to help with constipation. However, side effects from Arnica include; high blood pressure, shortness of breath, fast heartbeat and liver damage. In rare cases it has been associated with coma or death.
Ginger is often used to ease nausea associated with motion sickness and chemotherapy. It is also used for joint pain from arthritis. But, as with other supplements, it is not without its problems and can impact; blood clotting, heart rhythms, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Those on blood thinners or have diabetes should be aware.
Goldenseal has a long history as a favorite among Native Americans. Presently, it is used for constipation, colds, eye infections, and cancer. But Goldenseal can affect heart rhythm, blood clotting and lower blood pressure; therefore, if you take blood pressure medication or have clotting issues ask your doctor before taking this supplement.
Aloe, often in the form of a lotion from the plant, has been used on burns or wounds to promote healing and lessen pain. However, when taken by mouth it has been associated with abnormal heart rhythm, kidney problems.
Ephedra has been used for thousands of years in China and India to treat coughs, headaches, and cold symptoms. In contemporary society it has been used for weight loss and to boost energy. But, studies have shown it may increase blood pressure and heart rate and increase the risk of heart problems and stroke. While the FDA has banned ephedra as a supplement, it is still found in some herbal teas.
This supplement is often associated with slowing down the aging process, managing diabetes and improving sexual performance. But, it is also associated with lowering blood sugar (a potential problem for those with diabetes), and thinning blood (a potential problem for those taking blood thinners).
Black cohosh is used to ease menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. However, it should not be used by women with liver problems or breast cancer.
This popular supplement is used for high blood pressure and cold symptoms. Some studies support its use to lower cholesterol. While safe for most, garlic can thin your blood and those taking blood thinners must be cautious and seek medical advice.
This supplement has been used for coughs, sore throat, bronchitis, infection, and stomach ulcers. However, licorice root can raise blood pressure and affect heart rhythms so be sure to consult with your physician.
Users believe this supplement has value for allergies, dandruff, bladder stones, and urinary tract infections. But it can also cause fluid retention and should be avoided by those with heart or kidney problems or if taking diuretics.
Feverfew is most commonly used for migraine prevention. It is also used for arthritis joint pain and allergies. But, it is associated with blood clotting and can be problematic for those with heart disease or blood disorders.
In conclusion, while supplements may not be valuable or necessary for healthy individuals, others may find merit. However, these products are NOT regulated by the FDA and may be harmful. Some supplements can interact with your medications. Therefore, before taking any supplements be sure to talk with your medical doctor to be sure it is safe for you.
SOURCES: National Institutes of Health; WebMD
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Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.