35 Potentially Harmful Dietary Supplements You Should Know About

Be sure to take your vitamins!”

This is the message we hear starting in childhood: that supplements are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

But despite a widespread belief that they are safe because they are natural, the truth is that some supplements can be quite dangerous. Rather than enhancing health, consuming them in high quantities (or in conjunction with other medications) could result in terrible health outcomes.

Unproven Science, Growing Market

Most consumers are unaware that in the United States, supplements are not tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being sold.

Supplement sales continue to grow at an astounding rate, with the US market valued at $37 billion in 2019. By 2024, sales are projected to reach $56.7 billion in the US and a whopping $278 billion worldwide. [Sources: Statistica, PRNewsWire]

Yet the majority of patients who take supplements don’t even need them. In one study, less than 1/4 of people who take dietary supplements are actually shown to have a nutritional deficiency at all. [source: American Osteopathic Association]

While taking additional vitamins can be useful, consuming anything in large quantities, and combining them with prescription medications, can actually make certain conditions worse.

The lack of oversight and accountability puts the public at tremendous risk. An unregulated industry, combined with a massive marketing opportunity, has turned the supplement industry into a “Wild Wild West” full of quackery and unsubstantiated health claims.

Rigorous scientific studies about the safety of supplements for both adults and children is greatly lacking, despite the massive amount of money being spent on research (over $1 billion has been spent by one group alone).

Because of this complete lack of supplement regulation, the public is at risk of experiencing:

(You can read more about this in my guest post, What to Do if Your Doctor Promotes Multi-Level Marketing).

So basically,

  • a large percentage of people are buying dietary supplements…
  • most of which are unproven to actually improve health…
  • and in some cases, this may actually be causing harm.

Evaluating the Risk of Harm

In order to make a risk intelligent decision, we can use a Risk Matrix like the one below:

risk matrix, risk severity, risk likelihood, high risk, medium risk, low risk, risk management
Grace LaConte’s Risk Matrix of Severity and Likelihood

We can evaluate this situation by establishing a few things. First, we know that using some the degree of severity when using certain dietary supplements could be high (right side of the graphic above). We also know that the likelihood of harm occurring could also be high (top of the graph).

So taking dietary supplements could potentially be a High Risk situation.

We can Mitigate the risk of harm by reducing the effects of damage, and by making sure that it does not occur in the first place.

This is only possible if we increase our awareness of possible side effects or drug interactions. Understanding the possible dangers will result in the ability to make informed decisions about your health and the health of your loved ones.

(As with anything else — please consult your medical professional before making any changes to your medications. This information is only being shared for educational purposes and should not be taken as medical advice.)

 

Supplement Ingredients Which Can Be Damaging

Not all dietary aids are “safe,” despite the marketing pitch that is presented to consumers. Companies that use the Multi-Level Marketing model are especially good at convincing people who are suffering to spend their money on vitamins and minerals that could have amazing results.

(Read more about MLMs here)

MLM, multi-level marketing, network marketing, definitions, MLM definitions

Obviously, some supplements do provide health benefits; but many consumers are unaware of the risks that can occur with use.

At least 35 over-the-counter dietary supplements have been shown to result in dangerous side effects. These include:

Aloe, arnica, bitter orange, black cohosh, caffeine powder, cannabidiol, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, dong quai, ephedra, feverfew, garlic, germander, germanium, ginger, ginkgo, ginseng, goldenseal, greater celandine, green tea, hawthorn, kava, licorice root, lobelia, methylsynephrine, pennyroyal oil, red yeast rice, St. John’s wort, stinging nettle, usnic acid, and yohimbe.

Harmful Dietary Supplements, dietary supplement, supplement, health supplement, medical supplement, dangerous medicine, supplement industry

Let’s review the dangerous effects of these dietary supplements one by one. This information comes from CBS News, Consumer Reports, Cleveland Clinic, and National Institutes of Health.

 

1. Aconite

Also known as

Aconiti tuber, aconitum, angustifolium, monkshood, radix aconti, wolfsbane

Harmful effects

Vomiting, low blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, respiratory paralysis, death

 

2. Aloe

Also known as

Aloë, Aloe vera, “true aloe,” Aloe Barbadensis, Aloe Indica, Aloe Barbados, Indian Alces, Kumari, Ghirita, Gawarpaltra, Barbados Aloe, Curacao Aloe, Lu Hui

Harmful effects

When taken internally, can cause heart arrhythmia

 

3. Arnica

Also known as

Arnica montana

Harmful effects

Heart toxicity, increased blood pressure when taken internally

 

4. Bitter orange

Also known as

aurantii fructus, Citrus aurantium, and zhi shi

Harmful effects

Heart problems, stroke, death

 

5. Black cohosh

Also known as

Cimicifuga racemose

Harmful effects

Low blood pressure

 

6. Caffeine powder

Also known as

1,3,7-trimethylxanthine

Harmful effects

Heart arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, seizures, death; risk increases when combined with other stimulants

 

7. Cannabidiol

Also known as

CBD, CBD oil, Cannabis sativa, hemp, hemp oil

Harmful effects

Dry mouth, low blood pressure, light headedness, drowsiness, liver injury [additional sources: WebMD and Molecules by MPDI]

 

8. Chaparral

Also known as

creosote bush, greasewood, Larrea divaricate, Larrea tridentate, larreastat

Harmful effects

Liver and kidney problems; not advised for use by the FDA

 

9. Colloidal silver

Also known as

ionic silver, native silver

Harmful effects

Blue skin discoloration, neurological problems, kidney damage

 

10. Coltsfoot

Also known as

coughwort, farfarae folium leaf, foalswort, Tussilago farfara

Harmful effects

Liver damage and cancer

 

11. Comfrey

Also known as

blackwort, bruisewort, common comfrey, slippery root, Symphytum officinale

Harmful effects

Liver damage and cancer; FDA barred comfrey products from US production in 2001

 

12. Country mallow

Also known as

heartleaf, Sida cordifolia, silky white mallow

Harmful effects

Heart attack, heart arrhythmia, stroke, death

 

13. Dong quai

Also known as

Angelica China, Angelica sinensis, Angelicae Gigantis Radix, Angélique Chinoise, Angélique de Chine, Chinese Angelica, Dang Gui, Danggui, Danguia, Kinesisk Kvan, Ligustilides, Radix Angelicae Gigantis, Radix Angelicae Sinensis, Tang Kuei, Tan Kue Bai Zhi, Tanggwi, Toki

Harmful effects

Hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, bleeding problems, birth defects, high blood pressure in infants exposed from breastfeeding; estrogen-like hormone sensitivity with higher risk of breast, uterine, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids; carcinogenic [additional source: MedlinePlus]

 

14. Ephedra

Also known as

Ephedra sinica, Ma-Huang

Harmful effects

Irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, fatal interaction with other cardiac medications

 

15. Feverfew

Also known as

Tanacetum parthenium

Harmful effects

Interferes with blood clotting if taken internally

 

16. Garlic

Also known as

Allium sativum

Harmful effects

Increased risk of bleeding when taking blood-thinning medications

 

17. Germander

Also known as

Teucrium chamaedrys, viscidum

Harmful effects

Liver damage, hepatitis, death

 

18. Germanium

Also known as

Ge, Ge-132, germanium-132

Harmful effects

Kidney damage and death; warned against by FDA since 1993

 

19. Ginger

Harmful effects

Heart arrhythmia, blood pressure changes, blood clotting problems, and increased risk of bleeding when taking blood-thinning medications

 

20. Ginkgo

Also known as

Ginkgo biloba, gingko, maidenhair

Harmful effects

Increased risk of bleeding when taking blood-thinning medications

 

21. Ginseng

Also known as

Panax ginseng

Harmful effects

Hypertension, increased risk of bleeding when taking blood-thinning medications

 

22. Goldenseal

Also known as

berberine, Hydrastis canadensis

Harmful effects

Irregular blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm, increased risk of bleeding when taking blood-thinning medications

 

23. Greater celandine

Also known as

celandine, chelidonii herba, Chelidonium maju. Celidonii herba

Harmful effects

Liver damage

 

24. Green tea

Also known as

green tea extract powder, green tea extract, Camellia sinensis

Harmful effects

Dizziness, tinnitus, reduced iron absorption, worsens anemia and glaucoma, elevated blood pressure, elevated heart rate, liver damage, death

 

25. Hawthorn

Also known as

Crataegus species, hawthorn, hawberry, quickthorn, thornapple, May-tree, whitethorn

Harmful effects

Increased risk of bleeding when taking blood-thinning medications

 

26. Kava

Also known as

awa, Ava pepper, Piper methysticum, kava-kava

Harmful effects

Liver damage, exacerbated Parkinson’s symptoms; exacerbated depression, impaired driving, and death. Warned against by FDA since 1993. Banned in Canada, Germany, and Switzerland.

 

27. Licorice root

Also known as

Glycyrrhiza glabra, gycyrrhizaglabra

Harmful effects

High blood pressure, heart arrhythmia

 

28. Lobelia

Also known as

asthma weed, Lobelia inflata, pokeweed, vomit wort, wild tobacco

Harmful effects

Vomiting, confusion, tachycardia, low blood pressure, hypothermia, tremors, seizures, coma, death; warned against by FDA since 1993

 

29. Methylsynephrine

Also known as

oxilofrine, p-hydroxyephedrine, oxyephedrine, 4-HMP

Harmful effects

Arrhythmia and irregular heart rate, cardiac arrest; worse symptoms when taken with other stimulants

 

30. Pennyroyal oil

Also known as

Hedeoma pulegioides, Mentha pulegium

Harmful effects

Liver failure, kidney failure, nerve damage, convulsions, death

 

31. Red yeast rice

Also known as

Monascus purpureus

Harmful effects

Problems with kidneys, liver, and muscles; hair loss; magnifies effect of statin drugs

 

32. St. John’s wort

Also known as

Hypericum perforatum, Hypericum, Saint John’s wort, Goatweed, Klamath weed, Tipton weed

Harmful effects

Sunlight sensitivity, anxiety, dry mouth, dizziness, fatigue, headache, and sexual dysfunction; can also over-metabolizes antibiotics and weaken the effects of antidepressants, oral contraceptives, cyclosporine [organ transplant anti-rejection medication], digoxin [heart medication], indinavir [HIV medication], irinotecan [cancer treatment medication], anti-seizure medications, and anticoagulants such as warfarin [additional sources: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and VeryWellMind]

 

33. Stinging nettle

Also known as

Urtica dioica

Harmful effects

Amplifies the effect of diuretics, reduces the effect of lithium; can cause unregulated blood pressure, uncontrolled blood sugars, diuretic with possible kidney damage. [additional source: VeryWellHealth]

 

34. Usnic acid

Also known as

beard moss, tree moss, usnea

Harmful effects

Liver damage

 

35. Yohimbe

Also known as

Corynanthe johimbi, Corynanthe yohimbe, Johimbi, pausinystalia yohimbe, yohimbine [prescription drug]

Harmful effects

Headaches, high blood pressure, tachycardia, heart problems, liver and kidney problems, panic attacks, seizures, death; warned against by FDA since 1993

 

Sources used in this article (unless listed elsewhere): CBS News, Consumer Reports, Cleveland Clinic, National Institutes of Health


If you or someone you know has experienced a serious reaction or illness after using any vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, whey protein, creatine, and weight loss pills—please file a report using HHS’s Safety Reporting Portal (USA).

In Canada, you can file a report about adverse reactions with the Regulatory Operations and Enforcement Branch (ROEB) using the side effect form found here.


Find out more about adverse events from dietary supplements, check out what the FDA has to say about it: https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements/how-report-problem-dietary-supplements

 


Grace LaConte is a Strategic Niche Marketing Expert who helps healthcare practice owners to develop a high-profit specialization in a crowded market. Using her experience as a Risk Officer and Marketing Director for hospitals and IT services, Grace shares a refreshingly honest approach to uncover hidden risks and opportunitiesLearn more at laconteconsulting.com, or connect with her on Twitter @lacontestrategy.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.