Risks Associated with Nutritional and Herbal Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements are a booming business to retailers, with over a thousand new supplements being introduced yearly. Half of the adult American population uses dietary supplements for a variety of reasons which include using herbal supplements to improve health or to lose weight. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only a few requirements when it comes to the marketing of dietary supplements.

Dietary Supplements Defined

Dietary Supplements are designed to “supplement” an individual’s diet and should contain only “dietary ingredients” such as herbs, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. The FDA then classifies them as food and not as a drug. Like most foods, the supplements are not tested for safety or effectiveness. As a result the USFDA expects the manufacturers not to make any drug claims when marketing them. These claims should not include the supplement’s ability to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure diseases. Dietary supplements are sometimes concoctions of plant extracts that can have impurities and contaminants causing severe side effects (US FDA/CFSAN “Dietary Supplements: Warning and Safety Information,” USFDA Retrieved May 6, 2009).

Hydroxycut Problems Spotlights a Growing Trend in Natural Dietary Supplements

The most recent dietary supplement being pulled from circulation is Hydroxycut. Hydroxycut is a mixture of plant extracts that are supposed to help in weight loss by increasing the body’s metabolism and curbing a dieter’s appetite. Research, however, shows that Hydroxycut ingestion can cause hepatotoxicity (poisoning of the liver). Unfortunately the scientists have been unable to determine which of the extracts in Hydroxycut produce the undesirable liver necrosis (Stevens T, Qadri A, Zein NN. “Two patients with acute liver injury associated with use of the herbal weight-loss supplement Hydroxycut.” Ann Intern Med 2005;142:477-8).

General Toxicity Concerns of Herbal Dietary Supplements

In the United States dietary supplements are not subject to USFDA regulations and do not undergo any review from the agency. The Agency leaves the proof of the safety of the supplements to the manufacturers, who have little evidence proving the safety of the supplements. From a toxicological standpoint some of the supplements have alarming safety issues.

Dietary supplements contain extracts that have active ingredients that are pharmaceutical in nature.

The plant extracts used in the supplements pose a growing risk with their inherent side effects which may impart a negative effect on human health.

Most diet supplements contain other substances which have unknown effects and may also have unknown effects when combined.

As Governments agencies work to try and implement ways to improve the safety of dietary supplements consumers should assume that not all dietary supplements are safe, check with healthcare providers before using dietary supplements and check the USFDA website for any known recalls of ingredients or actual dietary supplements.

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