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“If you look at your body, you will find billions of living beings who depend on you. Every cell in your body is a living being that depends on you. You are responsible for all of those beings. For all those living beings that are your cells, you are God.” — Don Miguel Ruiz

The Hidden Dangers of Supplements

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Posted: Thu, Jan 21, 2016
By: Danielle Heard, MS, HHC
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Practically everyone takes some type of natural supplement including myself, but do they contain the ingredients that they claim? Recently PBS aired a Frontline story on the hidden dangers of vitamins and supplements.1 I would like to bring this story to your attention because quality of supplements and regulation is a very important subject that America needs to consider. This is a very controversial issue because many people fear that regulation will prevent them from being able to purchase their supplements. But is it safe or right that companies can sell supplements in the United States without any regulation which guarantees that what is stated on the bottle is actually in the supplement?

As a clinical nutritionist, I am very particular about the quality of supplements that I recommend and use. Like many of you reading this article, I also have had fears that regulation would affect my ability to acquire the supplements that I need to maintain good health. But since taking a Botanical Medicine course, I have become even more aware of quality issues with supplements. The supplements that I want to use for myself and recommend to my patients must be high quality and effective. I want to know that a product contains very specific levels of nutrients and phytochemicals and was produced with quality ingredients. Wouldn’t you want the same in a health product?

In European countries like Germany, supplements are more regulated than in the United States because to them botanicals are medicine. They have very detailed monographs which outline the safety and efficacy of botanicals that is supported with scientific research and clinical trials. 2 In Europe doctors frequently will recommend botanicals to their patients. So though the Frontline story also highlighted a lack of research supporting the use of supplements, there actually is a lot of research which has proven the efficacy of many herbs and supplements. The key to effectiveness of natural supplements is obtaining the same quality that was proven in clinical trials. At the very least a product should contain the amounts of the botanicals that it claims and contain no unidentified ingredients or excipients.

The issues that are raised in Frontline’s story are very concerning and are happening in the United States. I am a member of ConsumerLab which regularly tests supplement products for quality control.3 They have uncovered many problems with supplements. For example, many companies are selling supplement products that don’t even contain the ingredients that it claims. In one report they issued on Gingko Biloba, they state that gingko is one of the most adulterated herbs on the market. Many of the Gingko Biloba products actually have very little of the actual gingko extract and is instead spiked with another cheap flavonol glycoside called rutin that is found in buckwheat. Since rutin is a flavonol glycoside, like that found in gingko, it will trick product testing that is unable to identify the specific gingko flavonol glycoside versus that of rutin. Additionally, ConsumerLab also regularly finds that the phytochemicals in products are lower than what was also proven clinically effective. This means that the purchaser will not have the same phytochemical compounds they desire or the dose that has been proven effective. This is a serious problem and the public should be outraged about it. The examples given in the Frontline story were a bit more extreme such as harmful substances like steroids being found in supplements which occurred during the production process by a third party producer.

Other issues the Frontline story highlights includes fish oil and high doses of antioxidants. Problems with fish oil include environmental contaminants which are toxic, and oils such as this and other oils like vitamin E can also become rancid which is harmful to the body. Scientific evidence does support the use of fish oil for cardiovascular disease prevention as well as many others. 4 Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oil have an anti-inflammatory effect which protects the body against disease. Frontline also mentions that high doses of antioxidants can cause cancer. This is most likely in reference to a study that linked high doses of beta-carotene to a specific lung cancer in smokers. 5 But research studies have had mixed results and there is evidence that high beta-carotene intake is beneficial for nonsmokers. So in special cases such as in that of smokers there can be a potential risk of developing cancer with the high intake of beta-carotene. Biochemically speaking, antioxidants should be consumed with other antioxidants because once they negate a free radical they then become a free radical and require other antioxidants to regenerate. 6 Antioxidants work synergistically together and it is better to consume them together.

WATCH the Frontline story:
FRONTLINE, The New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation examine the hidden dangers of vitamins and supplements, a multibillion-dollar industry with limited FDA oversight: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/supplements-and-safety/

Before taking a lot of supplements especially high doses, a complete nutrition evaluation with functional testing would help to specifically identify nutrient deficiencies. Then nutrition therapies which include dietary change and quality nutritional supplements can be personalized to your specific needs. Many people are taking thousands of dollars of supplements but are not getting results because they are not addressing their specific health problem and possibly their supplements are not good quality which we have been discussing in this article. Before taking supplements you should consider having functional diagnostic testing to identify the root cause of your health issues and nutritional deficiencies.

So what are your thoughts on the topic of supplements and regulation after reading this article? What do you think America should do? Do you think as a consumer you should be able to trust that the product you are purchasing is what it claims to be? Please be respectful with your posting as I know this is a controversial topic.



1) PBS.org. Frontline – Supplements and Safety. PBS.org. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/supplements-and-safety/. Accessed January 21, 2016.
2) Schulz V, Hansel R, Blumenthal M, Tyler V. Rational Phytotherapy A Reference Guide for Physicians and Pharmacists Fifth Edition. Berlin, Germany: Springer; 2004.
3) ConsumerLab.com. Product Review: Gingko (Gingko Biloba) Supplements Review. January 7, 2015.
4) Weitz D, Weintraub H, Fisher E, Schwartzbard A. Fish Oil for the Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease. Cardiol Rev. 2010 Sep-Oct; 18(5): 258–263. doi: 10.1097/CRD.0b013e3181ea0de0.
5)Goralczyk R. Beta-carotene and lung cancer in smokers: review of hypotheses and status of research. Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(6):767-74. doi: 10.1080/01635580903285155.
6) Rahman K. Studies on free radicals, antioxidants, and co-factors. Clin Interv Aging. 2007 Jun; 2(2): 219–236. PMCID: PMC2684512.

Thank you very much for reading my blog and please continue to visit often.

Wishing you a healthy and happy New Year!


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Privacy Policy | Disclaimer | © 2008-2023 Artemis in the City, LLC. All rights reserved.
Email: info@artemisinthecity.com | Phone: 903-759-0172 | United States
Artemis in the City and logo and Food for the Untamed Soul are trademarks of Artemis in the City, LLC.