My problem with Consumer Reports article on '15 dangerous supplements'

Will the mainstream media ever get supplements right? A professor of nutraceutical science reacts to a recent piece on the dangers of dietary supplements.

So annoying! Once again, mainstream media has jumped on a story warning against the dangers of dietary supplements, and some of the facts are being misrepresented. In this case, it’s based upon an article in Consumer Reports, “15 Supplement Ingredients to Always Avoid.” Here’s an excerpt from the introductory paragraph:

With the help of an expert panel of independent doctors and dietary-supplement researchers, Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients that are potentially harmful. The risks include organ damage, cancer, and cardiac arrest.

To be clear, I think that some of the information presented is accurate. However, in my opinion, information on one-third of the ingredients presented in the article is not accurately represented. Specifically, the following ingredients are the ones that I think are being misrepresented:

Ingredient Risks (per Consumer Reports) Misrepresentation (my opinion)
Aconite (also called Aconiti tuber, aconitum, angustifolium, monkshood, radix aconti, wolfsbane) Nausea, vomiting, weakness, paralysis, breathing and heart problems, possibly death Agreed, but aconite is not really used in dietary supplements. Rather, it is used in homeopathic preparations—in which case the risk is non-existent.
Caffeine Powder (also called: 1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine) Seizures, heart arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, possibly death; particularly dangerous when combined with other stimulants Really? Caffeine? What about coffee? A 12 oz. cup of coffee from a premium coffee house provides 260 mg of caffeine, and a 16 oz. cup provides 330 mg of caffeine. If Consumer Reports is so concerned about caffeine, they should warn against drinking coffee.
Green tea extract powder (also called Camellia sinesis) Dizziness, ringing in the ears, reduced absorption of iron, exacerbates anemia and glaucoma, elevates blood pressure and heart rate, liver damage, possibly death First of all, there are many different types of green tea extracts with different standardizations. To paint them all with the same brush is ridiculous. Secondly, green tea extracts offer a plethora of health benefits, and there is a good history of safe use for extended periods of time.
Kava (also called Ava pepper, kava kava, piper methysticum) Liver damage, exacerbates Parkinson's and depression, impairs driving, possibly death Case reports of kava hepatotoxicity in 1999 and 2000 led to a ban of kava products in Europe. However, it turns out that the evidence against kava was quite poor. In 2015, two German courts lifted the ban on Kava, finding the original ban was inappropriate and based on bad data. Despite this, and despite more than 1,000 years of safe use by Melanesian societies, kava continues to have an undeserved reputation as being hepatotoxic.
Red yeast rice (also called Monascus purpureus) Kidney and muscle problems, liver problems, hair loss; can magnify effect of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, increasing the risk of side effects I have to laugh a little at this one. The risks identified are those of a statin drug. And in fact, original supplements of red yeast rice contained 6 to 12 mg of naturally occurring monacolin K—a compound essentially identical to the cholesteral-lowering drug lovastatin. The courts ruled that this made the product a drug, despite the fact that red yeast rice was in use since the Tang Dynasty in 800 CE. Consequently, red yeast rice supplements were only allowed to continue on the market if they provided just trace amounts of monacolin K. That means that those products would no longer have the same efficacy, nor would they be associated with the risks of statin drugs.

In short, I just wish that the information had been better researched before being presented. I don’t mind legitimate attempts to warn people about the dangers of certain ingredients, but first make sure that those ingredients are really dangerous—and apply the standard fairly.

Will the mainstream media ever get supplements right?

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