When Are Dietary Supplements Unsafe?

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Although a supplement label containing the words “all natural” may make what’s inside seem entirely safe, many people are shocked to learn that there can still be health risks associated with many common health supplements. Just like anything else, supplements carry their own set of risks based on the type of supplement and who is taking it. The most common negative effect associated with supplements occurs in the liver. Because the liver is the organ responsible for breaking down substances that enter the body, it is one of the first to be affected. Supplements such as green tea extract, weight loss agents like conjugated linoleic acid, kava, excessive doses of niacin, and too much vitamin A have all been linked to unintentional negative outcomes.

When consuming any of the above-mentioned substances naturally, harm does not occur, but it is the high concentration of any chemical, natural or otherwise, that poses a risk. Supplement induced bodily harm is unfortunately on the rise. According to the researchers of a study published in the peer reviewed Nature, “herbal supplements are among the most common therapeutic classes to cause (unintentional injury to the body) in the Western world.”

This all sounds a bit frightening, but generally, following the label on the bottle and buying supplements from reputable manufacturers is enough to keep a person safe. For those already suffering from anything associated with the liver, however, it’s best to consult with a physician before adding any supplements to your regular schedule. Beyond simply taking too much of a supplement, some supplements negatively interact with a person’s current pharmacological regimen. Another thing to be cautious of is overlapping ingredients. Many supplements contain overlapping compounds so you may be accidently taking a higher dose of something than intended if you don’t read all labels thoroughly.

Beyond potential liver issues, those who are about to undergo any major procedure should also be cautious about what supplements they are taking. Of course, diet is one of the most important building blocks when recovering from a procedure in the hospital, and vitamin supplements can speed up recovery, but some things should be avoided before any major procedure takes place. The most important supplement to avoid if you are hoping to heal tissue quickly is vitamin E.  Vitamin E increases the production of red blood cells, which could mean your body is unable to heal a wound as quickly. Likewise vitamin E could slow down the immediate recovery process, when a localized blood clot must form to help fight off any negative side effects of a hospital procedure. Other supplements that should not be taken in the weeks leading up to an inpatient procedure are omega 3 fatty acids, St. John’s wort, ginger, garlic, ginkgo balboa, and ginseng. Any of these things consumed, as part of a regular diet, is fine, it’s just when concentrated into supplements that they pose a risk.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for a doctor’s advice. Everything written above is meant to show that supplements sometimes have unintended, unexpected, and often unmentioned side effects. Describing every potential interaction is beyond the scope of this article, but if you are interested in adding a new supplement to your regimen, it pays off to do thorough research. For more detailed information, please visit the NIH website dedicated to vitamins.

Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning is a free service dedicated to helping seniors find housing and care options.

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