Some bitter pills

The September issue of Consumer Reports features an article called "The 12 Most Dangerous Supplements" that lists the dangerous dozen as aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe. While these supplements aren't common, it is important to note the potential harm they may cause. The article tells of a consumer who took colloidal silver, which turned her skin a permanent bluish tint. In another story, a consumer took a weight-loss supplement and developed hepatitis within weeks. My purpose in mentioning this article is to promote education on this topic, not fear. Some of the supplements on this list are touted as simple remedies for common maladies, such as congestion or a cough, but they can cause serious problems, like liver and heart damage. This issue also has a review of multivitamins and passes on some good advice, like checking your supplements for the "USP Verified" mark, a sign that the product was voluntarily reviewed by U.S. Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit organization that independently verifies the quality and purity of supplements and their ingredients. The article says we spent about $26.7 billion on dietary supplements in 2009, according to the trade publication Nutrition Business News. While many supplements are safe to take and are beneficial, cancer patients and survivors must be careful about drug interactions as some can interfere with chemo or have other effects, see our article "Mixing It Up."Finally, while we seek the simplicity of taking a pill to solve health or wellness issues, it is important to understand fact from fiction, so make sure you ask your doctor or nurse before adding any supplement to your diet.