Are herbs, drugs and stimulants “dietary supplements”?

Consumer Reports and the FDA have recently weighed in on the problem of dangerous or undeclared ingredients in what they refer to as “dietary supplements”.  So first, it’s worth talking about what we mean by the phrase dietary supplements.  It sounds good.  Sounds nutritional and healthy.  The word supplement hints that it’s something beneficial, something that makes up for a deficiency.  The problem with most of these ingredients is that there is no requirement for any of them.  No human is known to have a requirement for bitter orange, comfrey or colloidal silver, a few of the questionable ingredients mentioned by Consumer Reports.  So in fact, these aren’t supplementing anything.  Non-nutrients like herbs are used more for self-medication, like an over-the-counter drug.  Claiming that aconite will fix inflammation or nausea has nothing to do with nutrition or supplementation.  Aconite is not a nutrient.

But when herbs, stimulants or other ingredients are mixed with one or two vitamins or minerals or healthy-sounding anti-oxidants, the unsuspecting consumer can be fooled into thinking that the product is safe and beneficial to health.  The FDA does not regulate these “supplements”, and does not test them for quality, content or health benefits.  Pill manufacturers can say pretty much what they want about the miraculous effects of these products.  They can put what they want into them, not always what the label might list.  The doses aren’t always what the label claims.  The most the FDA does is warn you that you might be buying a pill or powder with undeclared ingredients, or ingredients that are harmful or of no benefit.  You’re on your own.

Consumer Reports created a list of the worst 12 supplement ingredients, dubbed the Dirty Dozen, which have been linked to damage to heart, liver and kidneys:

  1. Aconite
  2. Bitter Orange
  3. Chaparral
  4. Colloidal Silver
  5. Coltsfoot
  6. Comfrey
  7. Country Mallow
  8. Germanium
  9. Greater Celandine
  10. Kava
  11. Lobelia
  12. Yohimbe

Where might you find these?  Specialized pills, teas, bars, powders and drink mixes for weight loss, inflammation, body building, muscle building, energy, sexual function, aging and other common health concerns.  Or maybe in your innocent-looking vitamin pill.  You can check the ingredients list on the label, but according to the FDA, some questionable ingredients aren’t always listed.  If you buy vitamin or mineral supplements, stick to reputable brands.  If you see some ingredient on the label that doesn’t look familiar, you can check it yourself on the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which was used by Consumer Reports researchers for the Dirty Dozen list.

Copyright: All content © 2010-2019 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.