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Consumer Reports: Risks in taking supplements

August 2, 2012 5:24:56 AM PDT
Getting ready to take your vitamins? You're not alone, as more than half of American adults take nutritional supplements. But they're not without risk.

The Food and Drug administration has received more than 6,000 reports of serious adverse events in the last five years.

Consumer Reports has important advice you should heed before taking any supplement.

Dina Khader has been advising people about nutrition for more than 20 years. She says she's seen many cases of misuse of supplements.

"People start to take their own supplements without really checking if they really need it or if it's something that would benefit them in any way," she said.

A Consumer Reports investigation found many surprising dangers in vitamins and supplements, which are largely unregulated products. And moreover, there's increasing evidence there may be few, if any, benefits.

"There was a study published in June that showed that calcium supplements increased the risk of heart attack by 86 percent compared to the group who didn't get them," Consumer Reports' Nancy Metcalf said. "On the other hand, that same study showed eating calcium-rich foods can protect your heart."

A recent study of antioxidant supplements shows that high doses of some may increase cancer risk and not reduce it.

"Even more troubling, some supplements have turned out to contain prescription drugs like Viagra and Cialis that were not on the label," Metcalf said.

The FDA says supplements spiked with prescription drugs are the largest threat to consumer safety. There have been more than 400 recalls of such products since 2008.

"Even with uncontaminated vitamins and minerals, the labels don't tell the whole story because generally, the FDA does not require manufacturers to include warning labels," Metcalf said.

When Consumer Reports checked out the labels on more than 200 bottles of supplements, it found just one in three listed possible adverse reactions.

"In some cases, the potential risks of supplements can outweigh the benefits," Metcalf said. "We say if you're generally pretty healthy person, you can skip them."

Eating a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein is the best way to go.

Consumer Reports says for those on a restricted diet or with certain medical conditions, there are some supplements you may need to take. Of course, check with your doctor first.

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