Dietary supplements can be a great addition to your health routine, but it's crucial to choose your supplements wisely. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has instated regulations to ensure that supplements are contaminant-free and properly labeled, there are several other safety issues you should consider before and after you buy.
Your Supplement Safety Checklist
To make sure your supplements are right for you, keep these safety concerns in mind.
1) Watch Out for Drug Interactions
Since a number of supplements such as St. John's wort and ginkgo biloba may interact in harmful ways with prescription or over-the-counter drugs, you should always consult your physician before starting a supplement regimen.
Your doctor may also be able to notify you of any other potential risks the supplement might pose to your health (especially if you're pregnant or planning to have surgery), as well as offer guidance on the best dosage to take. If your doctor isn't comfortable with advising you on supplement use, ask if he or she can refer you to a supplement-savvy alternative health practitioner.
2) Do Your Research
Before you purchase a supplement, brush up on scientific evidence supporting the safety of its use. Third-party sources (such as information provided by objective health experts) are far more reliable than health claims published on a supplement manufacturer's website.
You can get the latest information on specific supplements right here on About.com.
3) Seek Out Certified Products
If a supplement is certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or the United Natural Products Alliance, it's guaranteed to meet a certain standard of quality. (The USP's screening process, for instance, ensures that a product will break down properly and effectively release its ingredients into the body.) Look for a certification seal from any of these organizations whenever you buy a supplement.
4) Check the Label
When shopping for an herbal supplement, it's important to verify which parts of the plant were used in its production. Different components can produce different effects, some of which can harm your health. For example, research shows that while the roots of the herb kava seem to be safe, its stem peelings and leaves may contain compounds that could be toxic to the liver. Talking with your doctor or herbalist and researching an herbal supplement can help you determine which plant parts to look for.
5) Take Heed of Side Effects
If you experience any adverse effects after taking a new supplement, discontinue its use immediately and contact your doctor. Although many supplements can be used without harm, others are linked to serious side effects (such as kidney damage and gastrointestinal problems), especially when taken at excessive doses.
Nerurkar PV, Dragull K, Tang CS. "In vitro toxicity of kava alkaloid, pipermethystine, in HepG2 cells compared to kavalactones." Toxicological Sciences 2004 79(1):106-11.