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Q
Most Dangerous Supplements?

I recently read an article in Consumer Reports about the 12 most dangerous supplements. What is your opinion about those 12, including kava and lobelia?

A
Answer (Published 12/16/2010)

I saw a recent Consumer Reports article and agree that many of the supplements it listed should be avoided. You'll find information on my site about most of them, including:

For the record, here's my opinion of the other four mentioned:

  • Aconite: Preparations made from this herb are used in very small doses in traditional Chinese medicine and the Ayurvedic tradition to treat pain related to conditions including arthritis, cancer, gout, inflammation, migraine headaches, neuralgia, rheumatism and sciatica. Aconite comes from monkshood (Aconitum napellus), one of the most poisonous plants known. Studies of compounds from it have found no evidence to support claims for their usefulness as anesthetics or as treatments for circulatory and neurological conditions. Aconite can cause irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and death and even in topical form is dangerous.
  • Country Mallow: This herb (Sida cordifolia) contains ephedrine, a potentially dangerous stimulant. For this reason, in 2004, the FDA banned the sale of country mallow as well as ephedra (herb) and all products containing ephedrine. In announcing the ban, FDA said that studies showed little evidence of effectiveness, except for short-term weight loss. Risks include increased blood pressure and stress on the heart, which the FDA concluded would negate any benefits of losing weight.
  • Greater Celandine: The roots, herb, and juice of this herb (Chelidonium majus) are used as a mild sedative, for prevention of gallstones, and to treat ailments as diverse as intestinal and digestive problems, liver disease, and eye irritation. Celandine preparations have also been used on the skin to treat ringworm, warts, and corns and the herb has been combined with antiviral agents to treat herpes, HIV, and the Epstein-Barr virus. Alkaloids from celandine are in a product called Ukrain, promoted for cancer treatment, but I have seen no scientific evidence that demonstrates its effectiveness. Celandine has been reported to cause hepatitis and may be to blame for unexplained cases of the disease. It also can cause rashes, itching, and serious allergic reactions in some people.
  • Germanium: A trace element used in the production of electronic devices, germanium is sometimes marketed as vitamin O. It has been linked to kidney and liver damage. Germanium has been promoted as a treatment for leukemia and other types of cancer as well as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac insufficiency, Parkinson's disease, neuralgia, chronic fatigue, hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and neurosis. Promoters also claim that germanium stimulates the body's production of interferon, a naturally occurring anticancer agent, and boosts the activity of the immune system's natural killer cells that attack invading germs. I have seen no scientific evidence that supports any of these claims.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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