Beware of certain dietary supplements

LOS ANGELES Jareem Gunter took a dietary supplement to improve his athletic performance. But he says it landed him in the hospital with liver failure.

"My eyes were jaundiced. My was body too, so my hands started turning yellow," Gunter said.

Gunter filed a lawsuit claiming the supplement contained an "illegal synthetic steroid." That suit has now been settled, but Consumer Reports' Nancy Metcalf says hazardous ingredients have been turning up frequently in three different types of supplements.

"The Food and Drug Administration has found synthetic steroids in supplements for body building and prescription drugs in supplements marketed for weight loss and sexual enhancement," said Metcalf.

So Consumer Reports says beware of supplements for bodybuilding, weight loss, and sexual enhancement.

And even when the ingredients are known, Consumer Reports says some can be dangerous.

Working with an independent research group, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, Consumer Reports has identified 12 supplement ingredients you should avoid.

The FDA has warned about eight of them -- some as early as 1993. Nevertheless, Consumer Reports found all easily available on store shelves or online.

"These supplement ingredients have been linked by clinical research or case reports to serious side effects, including heart, liver, or kidney problems," said Metcalf.

Unlike prescription drugs, supplements aren't always required to list potential adverse effects on the label.

"Without stronger oversight its buyer beware," said Metcalf.

That's something Gunter learned the hard way.

On the list are these ingredients, their uses, and what evidence Consumer Reports has that may lead to problems:

  • Aconite, used for joint pain, wounds, gout, and inflammation, but linked with nausea, vomiting, heart rhythm disorders, respiratory system paralysis, and death.
  • Bitter orange, used for weight loss, allergies, and nasal congestion, but linked with fainting, heart rhythm disorder, heart attack, stroke, and death.
  • Chaparral, used for weight loss, colds, infections, inflammation, cancer, and detoxification, but linked to kidney and liver problems.
  • Colloidal silver, used for fungal and other infections, Lyme disease, rosacea, psoriasis, food poisoning, chronic fatigue syndrome, and HIV/AIDS, but linked to bluish skin color, mucous membrane discoloration, neurological problems, and kidney damage.
  • Coltsfoot, used for cough, sore throat, laryngitis, bronchitis, and asthma, but linked to cancer and liver damage.
  • Comfrey, used for cough, heavy menstrual periods, chest pain, and cancer, but linked to liver damage and cancer.
  • Country mallow, used for allergies, asthma, weight loss, bronchitis, and nasal congestion, but linked to heart attack and arrhythmia, stroke, and death.
  • Germanium, used for pain, infections, glaucoma, liver problems, arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and cancer, but linked to kidney damage and death.

  • Greater celandine, used for upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome, liver disorders, detoxification, and cancer, but linked to liver damage.
  • Kava, used for anxiety (and is possibly effective, according to Consumer Reports), but linked to liver damage.
  • Lobelia, used for coughs, bronchitis, asthma, smoking cessation, but linked to toxicity, with overdose linked with fast heartbeat, very low blood pressure, coma, and possible death.
  • Yohimbe, used as an aphrodisiac, for chest pain or diabetic complications, depression, and erectile dysfunction (and possibly effective, according to Consumer Reports), but linked to high blood pressure and rapid heart rate at usual doses and at high doses linked to severe low blood pressure, heart problems, and death.

There are many supplements that are beneficial to your health - like calcium, vitamin D and fish oil. But always check with your doctor first, not only to see if it's right for you, but also to make sure it doesn't interact with any medications you might be taking.

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