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15 supplement ingredients identified as hazardous to health

Yohimbe among list of ingredients linked to severe side effects

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People often use supplements because they are much easier to get than prescription drugs. They also have a reputation of being more natural and thus safer.

A Consumer Reports survey finds 50 percent of Americans believe that supplement makers test their products for effectiveness, and 38 percent believe that supplements are tested for safety by the Food and Drug Administration.

For the most part, supplement makers don’t have to prove that their products are safe or that they work as advertised. They also don’t have to prove that the packages contain what the labels say they do.

Because the regulations are so weak, dietary supplements can be contaminated, ineffective or spiked with illegal or prescription drugs, and can cause harmful side effects, experts say.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition, which represents supplement manufacturers, says supplements are adequately regulated and that the vast majority are safe.

However, Consumer Reports has identified 15 supplement ingredients that have been linked to serious health hazards.

For example, yohimbe, which is used for obesity, sexual dysfunction and depression, can raise blood pressure and heart rate, cause headaches, panic attacks, seizures, liver and kidney problems, and possibly death.

Consumer Reports found those 15 supplement ingredients in products sold by major retailers including GNC, Costco, CVS, Walmart and Whole Foods.

Consumer Reports said the best way to protect the public is to have stronger federal regulation of supplements.

Consumer Reports also cautioned that many supplements can interact in dangerous ways with prescription drugs and recommended telling your doctor what supplements you are taking before starting a new prescription.

You can get Consumer Reports’ complete list of supplements to avoid at ConsumerReports.org/ingredientstoavoid.