Are supplements safe? Of course they are when used properly, and with guidance from a doctor.
Americans spend billions of dollars a year on supplements. Most of these supplements are purchased without a doctor's recommendation, or without the person understanding all of what they are getting. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I do use supplements with my patients. However, the supplements are specifically chosen for the patient’s needs. And I chose the supplement companies specifically based on their reliability, testing, and overall product safety. Supplements can be powerful medicine, and as such they need to be treated with the utmost care and respect.
A recent article titled “So-called ‘healthy’ supplements, like herbal viagra, could sicken or kill you,” was published recently talking about how potentially dangerous supplements can be. The herb used in “herbal viagra,” Yohimbe, is a powerful herb that is an alpha two adrenergic antagonist, appetite suppressant, and an aphrodisiac to name a few of its actions. However, its side effects include: nausea, vomiting, mydriasis, weakness, anxiety, panic, insomnia, loss of coordination, diaphoresis, increased heart rate, tachypnea, tremors, respiratory paralysis, or cardiac failure. This herb is contraindicated in patients with cardiac, liver, or kidney disease as well as high blood pressure, and in women who are pregnant, or lactating. This herb also interacts with sympathomimetics, tricyclic antidepressants, and MAOIs. Because of how powerful this herb is, it is one that I do not use frequently, or even at all. There are other, safer herbs that I can use to get the same effects. However, you can buy the herbal viagra containing Yohimbe at gas stations as well as health food stores.
The article states “the Annals of American Medicine even told shoppers to ‘Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements’ in a 2013 report that ruled there is no evidence to support the idea of supplements having positive effects — and in fact, some were harmful.” I would agree that some supplements can be harmful if not used correctly, and also that some supplements don't have any positive effects. However, the same can be said for some prescriptions medications that are often times harmful. Working on a daily basis with supplements, I have seen how tinctures, liquid herbs, supplements, and dietary changes have had positive results in my patients lives by comparison.
I guess the take away message is that you should make sure you check with your doctor about the supplements you are taking. You should also know the supplement companies that you are buying from; do they do third party testing on their raw ingredients, can you get a copy of their purity report, and can you know the exact amounts of the vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs that are present in their products. It is also best to follow the recommended dosage of the supplements rather than taking more as more does not mean better. And please always tell your doctor and healthcare team what supplements and drugs you are on.