What You Should Know Before Taking Dietary Supplements

New Media Producer: Brad Maglinger

Every year 150-million Americans buy dietary supplements for a variety of presumed health benefits. Consumer Reports says there are twelve supplements that should never be taken.

Aristolochia acid, also known as snakeroot, the report finds can cause organ failure and has known carcinogenic properties.

The FDA has warned 23 companies to stop making the supplement androstenedione. Chaparral, germander, kava, bitter orange, organ or glandular extracts, lobelia, pennyroyal oil, scullcap, and yohimbe are also all on Consumer Reports' lists as having adverse effects.

The potentially dangerous effects of most of these products have been known for more than a decade, and at least five of them are banned in Asia, Europe or Canada.

Charles Bell, of the Consumers' Union, says, "These are supplements that can cause severe kidney and liver damage, heart problems, cancer and even death."

There are about 30,000 supplements on the market and the industry says the majority are safe.

Unlike prescription drugs, dietary supplements are regulated like food, not drugs. They can be sold until the FDA proves they are dangerous. The industry says the new report shows the FDA's oversight works.

Consumer Reports says just because these products are natural, doesn't mean they're safe.

Below is the Consumer Reports' chart specifying hazardous supplements. To read more on this topic, click here.

(Also known as)

In products
such as


Regulatory actions

Documented organ failure and known carcinogenic properties

Aristolochic acid (Aristolochia, birthwort, snakeroot, snakeweed, sangree root, sangrel, serpentary, serpentaria; asarum canadense, wild ginger)

VäxaPMS-Ease, Shanghai Chinese Herbal Company Cardioflex (Guan Xin Su He Wan), Min Shan Brand Long Dan Xie Gan Wan

Potenthuman carcinogen; kidney failure, sometimes requiring transplant; deaths reported.

FDAwarning to consumers and industry and import alert, in April 2001. Banned in 7 European countries and Egypt, Japan, and Venezuela.

Banned in other countries, FDA warning, or adverse effects in studies

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale, ass ear, black root, blackwort, bruisewort, consolidae radix, consound, gum plant, healing herb, knitback, knitbone, salsify, slippery root, symphytum radix, wallwort)

AmericanHealth & Herbs Ministry Asthma Formula 1040 Tincture

Abnormalliver function or damage, often irreversible; deaths reported.

FDAadvised industry to remove from market in July 2001.

(4-androstene-3, 17-dione, andro, androstene)

ASTSports Science Andro100, SDI-Labs D-Bol Methadrostenol, Young Again Nutrients Androstene Dione

Increased cancer risk, decrease in HDL cholesterol.

FDAwarned 23 companies to stop manufacturing, marketing, and distributing in March 2004. Banned by athletic associations.

Chaparral(Larrea divaricata, creosote bush, greasewood, hediondilla, jarilla, larreastat)

ArizonaNaturals Chaparral tablets, American Health & Herbs Ministry Bowel & Liver Cleanser Tincture, Larreacorp Ltd. Larreastat

Abnormalliver function or damage, often irreversible; deaths reported.

FDAwarning to consumers in December 1992.

Germander (Teucrium chamaedrys, wall germander, wild germander)

Nature'sWonderland Germander Herb Powder

Abnormalliver function or damage, often irreversible; deaths reported.

Bannedin France and Germany.

Kava (Piper methysticum, ava, awa, gea, gi, intoxicating pepper, kao, kavain, kawa-pfeffer, kew, long pepper, malohu, maluk, meruk, milik, rauschpfeffer, sakau, tonga, wurzelstock, yagona, yangona)

NutriBioticMetaRest, Ancient Herbs Relaxit, BlueBerry Matrix Herbal Stress Relief and Relaxation Enhancement Tablet

Abnormalliver function or damage, occasionally irreversible; deaths reported.

FDAwarning to consumers in March 2002. Banned in Canada, Germany, Singapore, South Africa, and Switzerland.

LIKELY HAZARDOUS Adverse-event reports or theoretical risks

Bitter orange(Citrus aurantium, green orange, kijitsu, neroli oil, Seville orange, shangzhou zhiqiao, sour orange, zhi oiao, zhi xhi)

XenadrineEFX, Metabolife Ultra, NOW Diet Support

Highblood pressure; increased risk of heart arrythmias, heart attack, stroke.


Organ/glandular extracts (brain/adrenal/pituitary/
placenta/other gland “substance” or “concentrate”)

Healthgenesis.com Brain Concentrate capsules, Plymouth Bell Labs Multigland-F Aspen GroupGlan-Fem Plus

Theoretical risk of mad cow disease, particularly from brain extracts.

FDAbanned high-risk bovine materials from older cows in foods and supplements in January 2004. (High-risk parts from cows under 30 months still permitted.) Banned in France and Switzerland.

Lobelia(Lobelia inflata, asthma weed, bladderpod, emetic herb, gagroot, lobelie, indian tobacco, pukeweed, vomit wort, wild tobacco)

Nature’s WayLobelia Herb respiratory tonic, Nature’s Way Breathe-Aid, American Health & Herbs Ministry Asthma Formula 1040 Tincture

Breathing difficulty, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, diarrhea, dizziness, tremors; possible deaths reported.

Bannedin Bangladesh and Italy.

Pennyroyaloil (Hedeoma pulegioides, lurk-in-the-ditch, mosquito plant, piliolerial, pudding grass, pulegium, run-by-the-ground, squaw balm, squawmint, stinking balm, tickweed)

Nature’sAnswer Pennyroyal Herb Extract, Nature’s Wonderland Pennyroyal Herb capsules, American Health & Herbs Ministry Pennyroyal Tincture

Liverand kidney failure, nerve damage, convulsions, abdominal tenderness, burning of the throat; deaths reported.


Scullcap(Scutellaria lateriflora, blue pimpernel, helmet flower, hoodwort, mad weed, mad-dog herb, mad-dog weed, quaker bonnet, scutelluria, skullcap)

SolaraySkullcap Capsules, American Health & Herbs Ministry Appetite Stimulant Formula Tincture

Abnormalliver function or damage.


Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe, johimbi, yohimbehe, yohimbine)

TwinlabYohimbe Fuel, Nature’s Purest Herbal Niagara, K-Max Power-for-Men Pure Yohimbe Bark Extract

Changein blood pressure, heart arrythmias, respiratory depression, heart attack; deaths reported.


According to product labels.
Sources: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database 2004 and Consumers Union's medical and research consultants.