Ranking the Safety of Nutritional Supplements

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Almost anything we consume can potentially have side effects if we consume it improperly or in excess. Many of us recognize the benefits we can gain from using nutritional supplements. But even the supplements we take in an efforts to be healthier can sometimes cause us problems if we are not careful. Therefore, I created a list that ranks the safety of the various categories of nutritional supplements.

Note that even the safest of these examples need to be carefully consumed according to precise knowledge of their appropriate use.

Supplements ranked in terms of safety:

  1. Concentrated foods. Examples include ghee, garlic, chlorophyll, aloe vera juice, etc.;
  2. Herbal combinations produced by traditional methods (where the herbs contained in the product are prepared together) with organic or comparable ingredients in ISO-certified manufacturing facilities;
  3. Other traditional herbal formulas that represent balanced combinations of ingredients;
  4. Single ingredient herbs;
  5. Multi-vitamins;
  6. Moderate dose single ingredient vitamins;
  7. Multi-minerals;
  8. Moderate dose single ingredient minerals;
  9. Mega doses of any single ingredient vitamin, mineral or herb;
  10. Single ingredient designer supplements. One example is Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate (Arginine AKG), but there are dozens of such designer supplements. I am not singling out Arginine AKG for any reason. All the products in this category should be treated suspiciously;
  11. Extreme combinations of generally safer ingredients. Examples include weight loss (fat burn) products created by supplement designers purely for maximum effect. The individual ingredients may be OK, but the combination used pushes the product out of balance.
  12. Combinations of various designer supplements and other ingredients. These products are the extreme of the extreme. I'm not sure they should be considered any safer than pharmaceuticals (and many mainstream scientists would say they are far less safe than most prescription drugs).

The reason I treat traditional herbal combinations as separate from other combinations is that traditional (Chinese, Ayurvedic, traditional western herbalism, etc.) combinations are designed for balance. Any herb can have side effects. The traditional combinations typically include herbs that balance the effects of each other so that any potential side effects are reduced or eliminated. And the more ancient traditions typically have special ways of preparing the herbal ingredients together so the ingredients "learn to get along harmoniously." In contrast, most modern combinations simply take the separate ingredients and throw them together in a capsule or pill.

Many modern nutritional supplements, even herbal combinations, are typically designed solely for maximum effect. This means that several ingredients all known to have the desired effect are combined together without regard for subtle balance. This increases the chance for side effects. Designer products, or what I called extreme combinations, just take this further.

Single nutrients, whether vitamin or mineral or herb, need to be used with care. And single ingredient designer supplements should generally be avoided. In fact, whereas the traditional herbal combinations generally exhibit greater safety, the extreme combinations exhibit greater risk.

Some may find it interesting that I ranked mega doses of vitamins and minerals as relatively safer than at least a couple other categories. The reason for this is that designer supplements and extreme combinations are typically used in mega-dose amounts. But even if there were not, I feel that a mega dose of Vitamin C, for example, is generally safer than even a moderate dose of a novel chemical compound such as arginine AKG. (Again, I'm not picking on arginine AKG as particularly bad in any way - it's just a typical example of a designer supplement. A possibly less typical example would be Superdrol, now banned.)

Finally, I am the first to admit that all these products, even the designer supplements and even mega doses of vitamins, may have a valid place in an individual's health program. Using them wisely is the key.

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I should probably update this

I should probably update this article to include reference to supplements produced by genetically engineered bacteria (aka bacterial fermentation products).

"Genetic engineering results in the formation of higher than normal concentrations of certain enzymes and products; these could provide the basis for the synthesis of higher levels of toxic substances." - ref