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Supplement Safety

Supplement Safety

by Terri Gruca

Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE


Posted on August 3, 2010 at 8:53 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 3 at 10:06 AM

Last year Americans spent $26.7 billion dollars on supplements. Let’s face it most of us take them to stay healthy, lose weight or perform better in athletics. But how much do you know about the vitamins you take?

Despite the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act Consumer Reports found, “supplement manufacturers routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective.”

The consumer safety group just released its list of the 12 supplements you should avoid and the possible dangers.

  • Aconite                   Toxicity, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, respiratory system paralysis, heart-rhythm disorders, death.
  • Bitter Orange         Fainting, heart-rhythm disorders, heart attack, stroke, death.
  • Chaparral               Liver damage, kidney problems.
  • Colloidal Silver      Bluish skin, mucous membrane discoloration, neurological problems, kidney damage.
  • Coltsfoot                 Liver damage, cancer.
  • Comfrey                  Liver damage, cancer.
  • Country Mallow      Heart attack, heart arrhythmia, stroke, death.
  • Germanium            Kidney damage, death.
  • Greater Celandine   Liver damage.
  • Kava                          Liver damage.
  • Lobelia                     Toxicity, overdose can cause fast heartbeat, very low blood pressure, coma, possibly death.
  • Yohimbe                  Usual doses can cause high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, high doses can cause severe low blood pressure, heart problems, death.

A couple things you can do to know your supplement is safe:

Look for the USP Verified mark. This means the supplement manufacturer has verified the quality, purity and potency of the raw ingredients or finished product through the U.S. Pharmacopeia, a non-profit, private standards setting authority.

You can also find a list of verified supplements here.

ConsumerLab is another independent organization that has performed tests on all kinds of health, wellness and nutrition products. It has found that you can do a simple test at home to find out if they dissolve properly in your body.

  • Heat 1/2-cup of vinegar in a heat-safe cup on the hot-plate portion of a coffee machine to 98.6º F (body temperature). For a quick check of the temperature, use an instant-read thermometer, and don't allow it to rest on the bottom of the cup where heat is most intense, giving a false reading.
  • Place a pill in the cup, then stir continuously for 30 to 45 minutes, without hitting the pill and keeping the temperature near 98.6º F. If necessary, move the cup on and off the heat to maintain a constant temperature.
  • Uncoated or thinly coated products should disintegrate in about 30 minutes; gelatin-coated and hard-coated products may require the full time.

Note: This test may not work with "time-release" or "sustained-release" products. And be aware that "chewable" products are meant to be broken down by chewing and "enteric-coated" products should not fully break apart in this test since they are supposed to release their ingredients farther down the gut in the intestines.

Remember, this test isn't as rigorous as a laboratory test (which uses special equipment and controlled conditions), but it is more accurate than simply dropping the supplement into cold vinegar.


When it comes to multi-vitamins Consumer Reports found that store brands did just as well as name brands. The organization found that “you want to look for products that don’t exceed about 3,000 IU of vitamin A (2,300 for women), or 60 percent of the DV, ideally with at least a third from beta-carotene, the safer form of the vitamin. (Smokers shouldn’t take beta-carotene because it may increase their risk of lung cancer.)”

 Here are the multi-vitamins Consumer Reports found to have met their claims:

For Adults (tablets)

  • Kirkland Signature  Daily Multi (Costco)  USP verified
  • Equate  Complete Multivitamin (Walmart)  USP claim
  • Healthsense Advanced Formula Complete (Dollar General)
  • Up and Up Advanced Formula (Target)
  • Central Vite with Antioxidants (Rite Aid)
  • Spectravite Advanced Formula (CVS)
  • Centrum
  • Advanced Formula A Thru Z Multivitamin/Multimineral Supplement (Walgreens)
  • One a Day Maximum

For Seniors (50+) tablets

  • Kirkland Signature Mature Multi (Costco) USP Verified
  • Equate Mature Multivitamin (Walmart) USP claim
  • Spectravite Senior (CVS)
  • Centrum Silver

For Children (chewable tablets)

  • Kirkland Signature Sugar Free Children’s Chewable Complete Multivitamin (Costco) USP verified
  • Equate Children’s Multivitamin Complete (Walmart)
  • Up and Up Children’s Multivitamins (Target)
  • Children’s Chewable Complete Animal Shapes (CVS)
  • Children’s Chewable Vitamins (Rite Aid)
  • Flintstones Complete

You can read more about the Consumer Reports supplements study here. (To read the full report you will have to have a paid membership.)