Last week I talked about supplements and toad venom. This week let's talk about dietary supplements and safety.

When people hear a supplement is “natural” and “plant-based,” they assume it must be safe, especially when there is no warning on the label. However, many plants are toxic; comfrey, for example, has a comforting sound to it, but it can be toxic to the liver and kidneys and cause death. Remember that almost half the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by physicians or purchased over-the-counter are derived from plants (aka botanicals). In fact, many of the drugs in US supplements are regulated as pharmaceuticals in other countries.

The unfortunate truth is that seemingly innocuous supplements can make you sick, and be life-threatening, because they can interact with other supplements or medications. For instance:

     Immune system boosters, such as vitamin E, zinc, or echinacea, can interfere with drugs designed to suppress the immune system, such as corticosteroids, often prescribed for everything from asthma to brain tumors
     High-dose vitamins, fish oil, garlic or garlic can combine with an anticoagulant drugs, such as warfarin which also inhibits blood coagulation, and increase the risk of abnormal bleeding during dental and surgical procedures
    Calcium taken at the same time as some thyroid medications and antibiotics cause less of the thyroid medication to be absorbed into the bloodstream
    High doses of Vitamin A can damage the liver.  

    Vitamin D can damage the kidneys and cause calcium to be deposited in the soft tissues of the body.  

     High doses of vitamin B6 can cause neurological damage.

Also check out the National Institute of Health's supplement information:
Yet despite questions of supplement quality, efficacy, and  safety, we take them anyway. A TOJ just has to wonder - why?

Probably because some supplements do work for some people. Reminding ourselves, again, that each body is unique, certain people may benefit from them in some objective, measurable way. In some cases, there have been certifiable results, e.g., fish oil for heart health. Surely not every person giving a testimonial is a liar.
Also, we cannot forget the placebo effect, a baffling, but real, phenomenon that has proven many times, even in evidence-based medical settings, to influence health outcomes. The power of suggestion has worked miracles. Maybe people who take a pill and say to themselves “Now I’m going to lose weight!” start eating less and exercising more because on some subconscious level the pill gives them strength and determination to break old habits.
That's what I do with glucosamine-chondroitin. I take a couple of them, lace on my running shoes, and think to myself, "I will run forever." Yep, lots of dietary supplements are really a hope and a prayer.

No comments: