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Consumer Reports: Botanical supplement dangers

Posted at 4:00 AM, Nov 15, 2019

TUCSON, Ariz. - Jillian McEvoy is a self-described health nut. Her fitness routine includes yoga, cycling and weightlifting. And like 54% of Americans, she takes at least one supplement every day. Actually, Jillian takes a lot more than that.

“So, I take twelve supplements a day," says McEvoy. "I take different supplements for different things. My main thing is for energy because I’ve been having a lot of fatigue lately.”

Jillian says the supplements make her feel more energized, and while she hasn’t experienced any side effects, Consumer Reports says some supplements could cause harm, if they’re mixed with certain medications. And what’s more, shoppers can’t be sure of their potency or purity, let alone know if they really work.

“Supplement manufacturers are not actually required to demonstrate to the government that their products are effective or even safe before they are sold," says Consumer Reports Health Editor, Kevin Loria.

In a statement to Consumer Reports, The Council For Responsible Nutrition, a dietary supplement industry trade group said in part: "We think overall the current regulatory framework satisfies the objective of protecting consumers and making sure that only safe products are on the market."

A popular and fast-growing category of supplements are called botanicals, with sales of nearly $9 billion last year.

“Botanicals are just supplements that are derived from plants," says Loria. "Valerian, St. John’s Wort, people use these supplements to treat a variety of symptoms, but there’s kind of a lack of research saying that they conclusively do what people hope they will. And these supplements can really come with risks which can range from mild to severe.”

Take Saw Palmetto, which sometimes causes headaches. Milk Thistle could trigger allergic reactions. And Green Tea Extract has been linked to liver damage and elevated blood pressure.

“The bottom line is that we simply don’t have the evidence to show how safe or effective many of these supplements are," says Loria.

Consumer Reports says if you want to boost your immune system, some diet changes could really help. Load up on superfoods like dark leafy greens, raspberries, blackberries and broccoli, which are all good sources of Vitamin C.