Experts warn that consumers should treat over-the-counter health supplements as if they were prescription drugs, but find that many don’t. Although supplements offer some great benefits, you should learn about the proper dosage and the potential side effects before you start popping those tablets of glucosamine or omega-3. Just as with prescription drugs, serous risks could be involved in downing Echinacea or ginseng or zinc without doing your homework.

Some researchers say limit your supplement use to those recommended by your doctor. They suggest that you get your physician’s advice if you suspect you have a nutritional deficiency. Other experts, recognizing that patients may not have easy access to a doctor, say talk with a pharmacist about potential interactions.


The National Institutes of Health offers information about supplement side effects and risks on its comprehensive database. Reputable third-parties such as NSF and U.S.

Pharmacopeia (USP) offer seals of approval to products they’ve tested.Why all the caution about supplements many of us take for granted to defend our bodies?

Supplement products for weight loss or increased energy are commonly involved in sending an estimated 23,000 people to the emergency room with irregular heartbeats or chest pains each year, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. Certain vitamins can encourage cancer and the growth of tumors if you take too much of them, according to Dr. Mark Moyad, director of complementary and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

Most people taking supplements don’t ask their pharmacist about potentially risky interactions, according to a 2013 Consumer Reports survey. But supplements can mess with common prescription medications. University of Chicago researchers found ginseng can reduce the effectiveness of blood clotting drugs.

Contamination with lead, cadmium and other metals has been a major problem with supplements, says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the division of preventative medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Some of these metals have been linked to heart disease, cancer and cognitive problems, she says.

Even when you do the research on a single ingredient and are ready to buy a health supplement, look carefully at the package label. You may see the manufacturer added five other active ingredients. Moyad says extra vitamins or herbs or nutrients are added on so the manufacturer can point out that their product is different. Then they can price their supplement higher than competitors. “But we have no idea what happens when you mix all those active ingredients together,” he says.

Read more: Nutrition Supplements, Vitamins and Diet.