13 Herbal Supplements You Should Avoid

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According to a 2017 survey conducted by the  Council on Responsible Nutrition (CRN), 71 percent of Americans take a dietary supplement and 85 percent of them have confidence in the “safety, quality and effectiveness” of the dietary supplements they take. As more Americans have taken a more proactive approach to health care and as a more holistic, integrative approach to medicine has grown, so has the dietary supplement industry. Americans spent $32.5 billion on dietary supplements in 2012.

But, because the dietary supplement industry is virtually unregulated and doesn’t have to prove the effectiveness of dietary supplements before they are marketed, the purchase and use of dietary supplements should be approached with caution. And that high level of confidence might be ill-placed when you put the dietary supplement industry under the microscope.

In addition to some supplements containing potentially harmful ingredients, there are a number of supplements that should be avoided altogether. Read on for a list of the ones to avoid and why.

Supplements to Avoid

It is recommended that you don’t begin using dietary supplements unless recommended by your healthcare provider. Some supplements interact with prescription medication you may already be taking and combining them could cause a life-threatening reaction.

For instance, vitamin K can reduce the ability of a common blood thinner to prohibit blood from clotting. St. John’s wort can hasten the breakdown of certain medications, including birth control pills and antidepressants, making them less effective. Vitamins C and E, and other antioxidants may negatively impact the efficacy of certain chemotherapy medications.

In addition, webmd.com recommends avoiding the following supplements:

Kava: Often taken for insomnia or anxiety, do not take kava if you have liver or kidney issues as it may cause liver damage. It also is not recommended for those who drink alcohol or take other medications that cause drowsiness.

Gingko: Touted as a memory enhancer, gingko can thin the blood and cause bleeding. Do not take if you are already taking blood thinners.

Arnica: Offered in a gel to eliminate pain from bruising, swelling and aches or in a tablet to relieve constipation, arnica can raise your heart rate and cause shortness of breath. In extreme cases, it can damage the liver, bring on a coma or even death.

Ginger: You may think ginger is safe because it often is used in cooking, but it can cause problems with heart rhythms, blood clotting, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Don’t take ginger supplements if you have gallstones or are on blood thinners.

Goldenseal: This herb is used for everything from colds to cancer but can impact your heart rhythms and raise or lower your blood pressure. Avoid goldenseal if you have any kind of heart issue.

Aloe: Because it is a common ingredient in skin preparations, you may think aloe is relatively innocuous. Taken by mouth, however, aloe can cause irregular heartbeat and can lower the blood sugar level in those with diabetes.

Ephedra: Used for millennia in China as a cure for cold symptoms, it gained popularity recently as a weight-loss, energy-boosting aid. Studies have linked it to a rise in heart rates and blood pressure as well as heart attacks and strokes. The FDA banned ephedra as a dietary supplement but it may still be found in herbal teas.

Ginseng: Some take ginseng because they believe it slows the aging process. Others take it to help with diabetes or to amp up the immune system. Because it can cause a drop in blood sugar, those with diabetes shouldn’t take it as well as those who have heart issues or who are on blood thinners.

Black cohosh: Women often try this to alleviate symptoms of menopause such as night sweats and hot flashes; others take it to lessen PMS symptoms. Taken in large amounts, however, it may cause low blood pressure and liver inflammation or failure in those with pre-existing liver problems.

Garlic: Again, most think because we often cook with garlic that it is safe and healthy, warding off high blood pressure, high cholesterol and helping to ease cold symptoms. But garlic can thin the blood, increasing the risk of bleeding if you are already taking blood thinners or have heart problems.

Licorice root: What could be bad about licorice root since it is the base for candy? Plenty if you have heart problems as it can cause issues with heart rhythms. It also can cause problems for those with kidney disease. It is most often taken for coughs, sore throats, bronchitis and stomach ulcers.

Stinging nettle: Although its name alone sounds dangerous, some take it for allergies, arthritis, kidney stones, and urinary tract infections. It is dangerous however for those who retain fluid due to heart or kidney problems or for those who are on diuretics.

Feverfew: Although you might think that this would help with fever reduction, it actually is taken to prevent migraines and to alleviate pain from arthritis and allergy symptoms. People with kidney disease and heart and blood disorders should steer clear.

Bottom Line

Before adding any dietary supplement to your diet, consult your healthcare professional to ensure that it won’t interact with another medication you are currently taking or a pre-existing condition you currently have. And always check the label for any potentially harmful ingredients or ingredients to which you may be allergic. Surprisingly,  a number of multi-vitamins include gluten, a variety of artificial dyes, and even traces of shellfish, all common allergens.


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  1. David Kiefer, MD, Herbal Supplements You Shouldn't Try, website
  2. Mary L. Garcia-Cazarin, Edwina A. Wambogo, Karen S. Regan, and Cindy D. Davis, Dietary Supplement Research Portfolio at the NIH, 2009–2011, journal