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Some Cautions Regarding Herbal Supplements

I’ve blogged about the use of herbal supplements previously. In a nutshell, there are some out there that truly do have health benefits, but it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Since herbal supplements & vitamins are not regulated by the FDA, the manufacturers’ claims don’t have to be substantiated by rigourous research. So, there’s a lot of “snake oil” out there. Not only do many people waste their money on costly and unnecessary supplements, some of these can actually cause serious health problems.

CNN posted an article written by the Mayo Clinic entitled “Herbal Supplements: What You Need to Know Before You Buy” that is a must-read. Also, Consumer Reports magazine published a cover story article in the September 2010 issue entitled “The 12 Most Dangerous Supplements,” and their list includes the following 12: aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, comfrey, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe. You can read their article for greater detail, but avoid these 12 supplements!

Alarmingly, Consumer Reports also printed an article in their July 2010 issue in which they presented their findings that many popular protein supplement drinks contained contaminants that have toxic effects on the body. These contaminants include mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium. Yikes! I think I’ll get my protein from other sources, thank you!

A very fascinating documentary entitled Bigger, Stronger, Faster, which takes an honest but critical look at steroid and performance-enhancing drug use in America, depicts how easy it is to create and distribute supplements while making false claims about them (even showing how sellers can manipulate/doctor  “before & after” images to portray “gains” made). 

With supplements, the old adage that “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” really seems to hold true. I think we often waste our time, effort, and money trying to find shortcuts that will give us an edge in life. For the most part, I think we are better off focusing on the basics – eat a healthy, balanced diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise, and put time & effort toward developing and maintaining strong social relationships. True happiness won’t come in the form of a supplement. In fact, more harm than good can come from using them indiscriminately.

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