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Beware of supplements and botanicals

SAN ANTONIO – Many of us exercise and diet to stay healthy, and millions are spending billions of dollars on supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and even botanicals like turmeric or ginger. While many people assume that supplements are safe, a Consumer Reports investigation reveals that’s not always the case. What’s more, shoppers can’t be sure of their potency or purity, or if they really work.

Manufacturers of supplements aren’t required to demonstrate to the government that their products are effective or even safe before they are sold.

In a statement to Consumer Reports, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a dietary supplement industry trade group, said in part: “We think overall the current regulatory framework satisfies the objective of protecting consumers and making sure that only safe products are on the market.”

Botanicals are a popular and fast-growing category of supplements, with sales of nearly $9 billion last year. They’re supplements derived from plants.

People use Valerian, St. John’s Wort, and other supplements to treat a variety of symptoms, but there’s a lack of research saying that they conclusively do what people hope they will. And these supplements can come with risks, which can range from mild to severe.

For example, saw palmetto can cause headaches, milk thistle can trigger allergic reactions, and green tea extract has been linked to liver damage and elevated blood pressure.

The bottom line is that there isn’t enough evidence to show how safe or effective many of these supplements are. CR says you should always talk to you doctor before taking any supplement, especially if you’re taking prescription medications.

Consumer Reports says if you want to boost your immune system, diet changes can help. Load up on superfoods like dark, leafy greens, raspberries, blackberries, and broccoli, which are all good sources of vitamin C.