What’s in Your Supplements? Dangerous Ingredients to Look Out For

4 min readFeb 1, 2020


Although we probably all pop a vitamin or two, the reality of these natural supplements isn’t always what we believe to be true. The vitamin industry, which includes herbs, vitamins and minerals is a $40 billion industry. And a recent report on Consumer Reports exposed the fact that the ingredients in these supplements aren’t always regulated for safe consumption. The FDA doesn’t have to approve these capsules before they hit the shelves, and what’s even more troublesome is that some of them don’t even work. A study from 2015 found that many of the supplements have adverse effects and some 23,000 people in the U.S. visited the emergency room because of their supplements, with 2,154 visits resulting in hospitalization. What we take to get better could actually be making us ill.

In 2019, Harvard wrote that many dietary supplements have hidden pharmaceutical ingredients. A JAMA study in 2018 found that the most common supplements meant to work towards sexual enhancement, weight loss or muscle building contain one pharmaceutical ingredient, and 20% have more than one. That means your “natural” pill isn’t so natural after all.

Furthermore, many capsules have a laundry list of ingredients that should be avoided, yet make it on to the market and are sold all around the U.S. These 15 toxic ingredients can cause organ damage, cancer, cardiac arrest and various other concerns.

It’s imperative to know that these aren’t black-market products. These items are found in your everyday stores like CVS, Walmart, Costco and Whole Foods.

Watch out for these 15 ingredients:

  1. Aconite is an ingredient that is said to reduce inflammation, joint pain and gout. In fact, it can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, paralysis, trouble breathing, heart problems and even death according to Consumer Reports.
  2. If you struggle with digestion and breathing problems, you may be told to take pennyroyal oil, which can ultimately lead to liver and kidney dysfunction.
  3. Red Yeast Rice has been recommended for people looking to lower their cholesterol but can, in fact, cause muscle problems and hair loss.
  4. Caffeine powder is typically taken to enhance attention; however, heart problems, seizures and cardiac arrest can occur, especially if taken with other stimulants.
  5. Chapparal, otherwise known as Creosote Bush, is taken for weight loss but is also a supplement for colds and rashes. This ingredient contributes to kidney problems and liver damage, as well as potential death.
  6. Coltsfoot is a supplement taken for coughs, bronchitis, laryngitis, sore throat and asthma. Liver damage is the primary concern with this supplement. Coltsfoot is classified as a carcinogen.
  7. Usnic Acid, or beard moss, is used when trying to lose weight but can result in liver damage.
  8. For those who struggle with erectile dysfunction, Yohimbe may be a cure. However, raised blood pressure, seizures, headaches, liver, heart and kidney problems are all possible side effects.
  9. Kava is found in many supplements, as it has gained popularity in tea houses. Said to help ease anxiety and insomnia, Kava can cause liver damage and impaired driving and exacerbate depression and Parkinson’s disease.
  10. For people seeking weight loss, alleviation of arthritis and gout, Germander can ease concerns. Risks involve liver damage, hepatitis and even death.
  11. Comfrey relieves coughs, heavy periods and chest pains but can also cause liver damage, cancer and death.
  12. Green Tea Extract Powder can cause dizziness, ringing in the ears, elevated blood pressure levels and liver damage. It’s meant to be used for weight loss.
  13. Methylsynephrine increases energy levels and improves athletic performance, and is typically used for weight loss. Side effects can include cardiac arrest and heart rate abnormalities. These risks increase with the use of stimulants.
  14. Lobelia improves respiratory problems but can cause vomiting, seizures, hypothermia, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, and even coma and death.
  15. Vinpocetine is a common ingredient that can cause decreased fetal weight and increased chance of a miscarriage in pregnant women. It’s typically found in products that enhance memory and reduce fogginess, and it is often used for weight loss.

Ditching big pharma is one feat, but looking into the vitamin and supplement industry is the next battle to tackle. Holistic medicine’s reputation is in jeopardy due to these misleading supplement ingredients which can contribute to disastrous outcomes.

How can you stay on top of your health? Knowing the side effects of ingredients can decrease your chances of organ damage, cancer and cardiac arrest. Many of these types of supplements can also interact negatively with prescription medicine and over-the-counter drugs.

In a perfect world, the FDA would screen these ingredients and prevent them from entering our bodies. However, you’re going to have to put in the extra work here. Read the labels of your supplements, eat organic foods that fulfill these supplements, write to the FDA to ensure proper future precautions and research these ingredients.

By S. Nicole Lane

S. Nicole Lane is a freelance journalist based in the southside of Chicago where she covers women’s health, the LGBTQ voice, arts, and entertainment. Her byline can be found in Playboy, Rewire News, i-D, Broadly and various other corners of the internet. She is also a visual artist who works with small-scale sculptures.




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