Supplements If You Have an Adverse Reaction

  • Immediately inform your healthcare provider if you think you have suffered a serious harmful effect or illness from a dietary supplement.
  • Report any serious problems to the FDA's MedWatch hotline: (1-800-FDA-1088), fax (1-800-FDA-0178), or (www.fda.gov/medwatch/) online. Either you or your healthcare provider can do this. Be prepared to identify the probable product.
  • For a general concern or complaint about any supplement, contact your nearest FDA District Office. Find the phone number on the www.cfsan.fda.gov/ ~dms/district.html Web site.
  • Look for products labeled with the voluntary USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) or NF letters, which indicates that the manufacturer self-reports voluntary standards of quality. Some reputable companies choose to pay for independent certification; often national brands from larger companies have stricter quality controls. Certification marks represent differing criteria; most important, they indicate whether a label matches the supplement contents, not its safety or effectiveness.
  • Remember, "natural" doesn't mean safe or milder. For example, peppermint leaf tea is thought safe; concentrated peppermint oil from leaves can be toxic.
  • Stick with the label dosage; heed warnings. The dosage is set by the manufacturer—not by FDA regulations. Boosting the dosage without medical supervision can be dangerous. An insignificant substance can be harmful when a supplement is consumed beyond the label dosage.
  • Follow the label directions. Some supplements are more effective taken with food; others, on an empty stomach. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for a list of foods and drinks to avoid consuming with the supplement. Usually water is the best drink.
  • Keep dietary supplements in a safe place—away from places where children may reach them! Adult iron supplements are the most common cause of poisoning deaths among children in the United States!
  • Keep supplements in a cool, dry place—preferably away from the stove and not in the bathroom. Heat and moisture affect their quality and effectiveness. Keep them in their original containers (label still on).
  • Check the expiration date. Supplements lose some potency as they get closer to their expiration date.
  • On the same note, skip the urge to "prescribe" a supplement for someone else. Even if it works for you, it may not be safe or effective for someone else.
  • Want to know about a supplement's contents? Contact the manufacturer. The FDA doesn't have the resources to analyze supplements. Companies that provide scientific information about their products are more likely to be reliable resources; still, be wary and careful.
  • Ask a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or your healthcare provider about the effectiveness of specific supplements—and the research behind claims. Show the supplement container; share information you gather.
  • Stay skeptical of supplement marketing—even with label or advertising claims. See "Play 'Ten Questions'" and "Spotting a Fraud" in chapter 24 to help you evaluate their claims.

Have You Ever Wondered

. . . if supplements are safe to take if you have allergies? Remember that herbal and other botanical supplements are made from the bark, flowers, leaves, and seeds of plants. And chitosan, promoted for weight loss (with limited effectiveness), is a fiber from the shells of shellfish—a problem if you have shellfish allergies. If you're prone to allergic reactions, check with your healthcare professional before taking them. See chapter 21 for more about allergies. ... if a supplement without cautionary information on the label is safe? Warnings about potential adverse effects of a supplement's use do not need to be printed on the label. To find out, you need to contact the manufacturer directly for substantiated evidence.

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