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things you need to know about supplements

Do your homework. Supplements differ from drugs in that they aren’t meant to prevent, treat or cure diseases, nor are they required to follow the same stringent regulations as prescription medicines. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to review dietary supplements before they hit the shelves like they do with prescription medications. Instead, manufacturers and distributors are responsible for ensuring the safety of their products before they go on sale. That means that there’s no guarantee how thoroughly a supplement may have been tested, if at all.

While there’s no shortage of web sites on supplements, the trick is knowing where to look for reliable info. Check government sites like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or talk with your pharmacist. And always get your doctor’s okay before starting a supplement regimen.

Beware of false claims. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects, and research shows that calcium and vitamin D supplements can improve bone health. But not all supplements do what they claim, and many need more research. Not surprisingly, many weight-loss supplements—a.k.a. fat burners or appetite suppressants—don’t keep weight off long-term, and some can have harmful side effects, according to the NIH.

Watch out for the word “natural,” too. It doesn’t always mean a supplement is safe. While some natural herbs may be considered safe, they can become contaminated during processing or may be intentionally contaminated with actual prescription drugs. Others, like comfrey – banned in oral form in the United States, and can only be purchased as an ointment, which may still be harmful – and kava, can cause liver damage. St. John’s wort, an herb used to treat depression, can make birth control and other medications less effective.

Follow directions carefully. Never take more than the recommended dose or combine supplements. Avoid taking supplements with other medications, or substituting supplements for actual medication.

Also, read package warning labels. Women who are pregnant or nursing, people who have allergies to any ingredients, young children and older adults should never take supplements without their doctor’s okay. Your doctor can also assess your risk of taking supplements if you have an existing condition or of combining it with other medications.
Keep your doctor informed. Any dietary supplement regimen will vary from person to person. Talk with your doctor before you start, and keep him or her up to date on any changes.

don’t take supplements with these ingredients. There are 15 ingredients found in dietary supplements that people should always avoid, according to a Consumer Reports study. These dangerous ingredients have the potential to cause kidney and liver failure, paralysis, seizure, possible death and more. Whether or not you’ll experience severe side effects depends on three factors: how much and how long you’ve been ingesting the ingredients, and if you have a pre-existing condition.

Here’s a list of the supplement ingredients people should always avoid:

Aconite
Caffeine Powder
Chaparral
Coltsfoot
Comfrey
Germander
Greater Celandine
Green Tea Extract Powder
Kava
Lobelia
Methylsynephrine
Pennyroyal Oil
Red Yeast Rice
Usnic Acid
Yohimbe
Many of these ingredients—like caffeine powder, methylsynephrine and red yeast rice—may interact with statins to lower cholesterol, drugs like aspirin that have blood-thinning properties and other stimulants. The study concluded the health benefits of these ingredients don’t justify the risks, and yet these ingredients can be found readily in supplements at your local drug store.