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Beware of Dangerous Supplements

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The nation’s drug supply is beset with problems due to counterfeit prescription drugs, which have flooded the market from China and other countries. But it’s not only prescription drugs you need to watch out for — imported supplements have their problems as well, says a top cardiologist.

“Sometimes, supplements contain dangerous ingredients”, says Dr. Chauncey Crandall. Or, as in the case of some prescription drugs, they may even be fakes.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Ask your doctor about a particular supplement you’re thinking of buying.
  • Look to see if the product makes mention of a manufacturer’s certification on the label. Certification is not required, but there are organizations that offer certification that attests to manufacturing standards that are consistent with or exceed the requirements set out by the FDA. These organizations include NSF International, a nonprofit public health and safety organization; and the Natural Products Association (NPA), an industry trade group.
  • Check the label to see that the nutrient you are buying is listed in the ingredients, and what amount the supplement contains. If the label says that the amount has been “standardized,” this provides added assurance.
  • Choose supplements that are manufactured in the United States or Canada.
  • Watch out for supplements sold by email or promoted in a foreign language.
  • Watch out for outrageous “too good to be true” claims.
  • Do your research. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), as well as other federal agencies maintain information on their websites about supplements.
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