4 things you should know about supplement safety

Herbal and dietary supplements are topping the list of perceived natural over-the-counter alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs. But the idea of supplements as being “natural” can also be misleading.

While current healthcare industry practices continue to keep America sick, so many people (including myself) are looking for alternative methods to heal ourselves instead.

According to a report by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) has been steadily increasing in popularity in the last decade. The numbers as of 2007 said that about four in 10 adults and one in nine children are using CAM. And those numbers today are anticipated to be even higher.

As popular as CAM is, herbal and dietary supplements continue to top the list of perceived natural over-the-counter alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs. Yet while we prefer alternatives that are more “natural,” we still want it to work as fast as the man-made stuff, so that we can get back into the game. But we should know what we’re dealing with before picking the first item off of the shelf.

Here are some things you should think about when choosing your next alternative healing supplement:

Natural Doesn’t Always Mean Safe

But the idea of supplements as being “natural” can also be misleading. Some plants or herbs that grow in the wild, while they have amazing medicinal qualities, can actually be potent poisons if not taken in correct dosages. Here’s a great resource to learn more here.

For example, plants such as hemlock and some ivies are undoubtedly natural, but very deadly.

More Isn’t Always Better

When looking for vitamins or a dietary supplement, so many fall into the trap in believing that just because our bodies need these chemical compounds found in natural foods, that the more we take, the better.

Believe it or not, vitamins and dietary supplements can also be dangerous. Ingesting high doses of almost any vitamin or mineral can easily lead to toxicity, and possibly death. It is extremely rare for a person to eat enough of any food to develop a toxic amount in their body. Yet it is more common than you’d think to overdose on a vitamin or mineral when taking them in pill form. For a list of vitamins/minerals and signs of toxicity or deficiency, check out this resource.

No Industry Standards

Another thing to be wary about is because dietary supplement are not considered a drug, these products are not held up to the same safety standards as pharmaceutical drugs. That means composition, purity, quality and quantity is not regulated. There have been occasions when supplements on the market have been lab tested and were found to either lack ingredients listed, or sometimes even register way below or above the amount indicated on the label. Some have blatantly had ingredients listed that were not included or added ghost ingredients they’re not telling you about on the label.

Herbs & Drugs May Not Play Well

Although your herbs or dietary supplements may be over-the-counter, they are still producing physical effects inside of your body. So many people when speaking to their doctor forget to mention their daily vitamins or herbs, when some can have dire interactions with certain pharmaceutical drugs. For instance, certain over-the-counter supplements can have adverse effects if you start taking a blood thinner, including such as Vitamin E, or Gingo bilboa, as well as aspirin, a common household item.

If you are thinking of taking a new prescription or dietary supplement, research what could cause possible negative reactions by plugging it into this Drug Interaction Checker.


Overall, I would tell everyone to use caution when taking supplements. Consulting with either a nutritionist or certified herbalist is your best bet before taking any dose of herb or vitamin/mineral. They are also a great resource when you are looking for recommendations for trusted sources and manufacturers of supplements.

One organization’s website you should frequent if you don’t already is that of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Check out their page on wise use of supplements here.

Some other fantastic resources when researching supplements is to check out US Pharmacopeia (USP) , Consumer Lab, or NSF International. All of these are non-federal research groups that provide a certification to supplement companies, which confirms that the contents of the bottle are what is stated on the label.



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