LOS ANGELES (KABC) --Dietary supplements are now a $40 billion a year industry, but they're not as safe as you might think. A Consumer Reports investigation outlines 15 supplement ingredients that are potentially harmful.
Supplements are easier to get than prescription drugs and carry an aura of being more natural and thus safer.
A Consumer Reports survey finds 50 percent of Americans believe supplement makers test their products for effectiveness, and 38 percent believe the FDA tests supplements for safety.
However, 23,000 people a year wind up in an emergency room after taking a supplement.
"For the most part, supplement makers don't have to prove that their products are safe. 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," said Jeneen Interlandi with Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports has just released an investigation on supplements.
"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," Interlandi said.
In response, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which represents supplement manufacturers, says supplements are adequately regulated and the vast majority are safe.
Consumer Reports has identified 15 supplement ingredients to avoid. They've been linked to serious health hazards.
For example, people use yohimbe 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.
Yet Consumer Reports found those 15 supplement ingredients in products sold by major retailers such as GNC, Costco, CVS, Walmart and Whole Foods.
Consumer Reports believes the best way to protect the public is to have stronger federal regulation of supplements.
Consumer Reports cautions that many supplements can also interact in dangerous ways with prescription drugs. So you should tell your doctor what supplements you are taking before you start a new prescription.
Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization that does not accept advertising and does not have any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.