A Few Not-So-Innocent Supplements

According to a recent article in AARP magazine, “When Supplements Become Dangerous,” taking dietary supplements can wreak havoc when combined with certain medical prescriptions.

“There are over 5,300 distinct dietary supplements, and very few of them have been studied systematically,” notes Vanessa Grubbs, M.D. and expert in kidney disease at San Francisco General Hospital. Newly diagnosed kidney patients should tell their doctors if they are taking any supplements, as some might adversely affect any drugs the doctor prescribes, says Grubbs.

It’s tough to know what’s really inside those supplements because although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the industry, the FDA doesn’t adhere to the same guidelines it uses for medications.

What’s worse is that FDA approval isn’t needed by the supplement manufacturers before they release their products. Yikes!

A doctor’s approval for taking supplements is a must, particularly for people with hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease or liver problems. The article references a list of potentially dangerous supplements in a 2010 issue of Consumer Reports:

Aloe Vera: May interact with blood sugar-lowering medicines for diabetes treatments.

Bitter Orange: Advertised as a remedy for nausea or indigestion; it can speed heart rate and increase blood pressure.

Ginseng: Used to reduce concentrations of the anticoagulant drug warfarin, but can interact with antidepressant meds.

Kava: Touted as an insomnia and anxiety reducer; reported to cause liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure; also may impair driving ability.

Licorice Root: Can cause high blood pressure and salt/water retention—raising risk of heart problems; often taken for ulcers, bronchitis and sore throat.

Melatonin: Taken for insomnia, but can null effectiveness of antidepressant, anti-anxiety and blood pressure meds.

Saint John’s Wort:  Promoted to improve mood; can reduce effectiveness of anticoagulants and antidepressants. Also, it can decrease effectiveness of cancer drugs by up to 40%.

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