Supplements: Do You Really Know What You’re Taking?

Why you should be very careful when buying herbal and dietary supplements

Gideon M-K; Health Nerd


Pictured: Pills in a hand, with a strong white theme. Photo by Mariana Rascão on Unsplash

The supplement world is a massive business worldwide. A recent CDC estimate suggested that more than half of adults in the United States take at least one supplement regularly, and the rate of use is only increasing rapidly as time goes on. There’s a high likelihood that you, the person reading this, have taken a dietary or herbal supplement in the last week or two, based on the evidence.

But do you really know what you’re taking? A number of scientific studies suggest that many commonly-used pills, powders, serums, and capsules either don’t contain everything they say they do or have secret extra ingredients that can be very harmful to health.

Search results for “dodgy supplements” turned up this wonderfully dramatic photoshoot. Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

Let’s look at some of the evidence.

Secret Additives

A fact that surprises everyone but toxicologists and people skeptical of the supplement industry is that herbal and ‘all natural’ supplements are often adulterated with medicines that perform the same function as the supplement claims it does, to make them work better.

Probably the most common example of this is supplements for men’s sexual function. These supposedly safe pills are usually marketed as a safe alternative to the medicines that people usually prescribe to, um, perk up the sex lives of people with penises.

This is what came up when I searched “phallic” and I’m not sure of the symbolism but I do feel very uncomfortable for some reason now. Enjoy. Photo by Deon Black on Unsplash

And it’s a very well-established fact that a large proportion of these products contain sildenafil — Viagra — or similar drugs. If you search the FDA reporting website, there’s a notice every month or two for sildenafil that has been secretly used to enhance the erections of men taking these supplements.

This is, of course, incredibly dangerous. Many men take herbal supplements precisely to avoid the potential complications of sildenafil, which can be pretty problematic when combined with…