Medical Minute 6-7: Six Scary Supplements

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

From sleeping, to memory, to mood, to cholesterol…. toxicologist. Amitava Dasgupta says there's something to treat just about everything. But there's a huge misconception about herbal supplements.

One is Kava Kava. Used as a natural sleep aid, Dasgupta says it can cause irreversible damage.

Dasgupta says, "using Kava Kava for a few months can cause significant liver damage including total liver failure."

He tells us Germander, used for general health, can also cause liver failure.

Dasgupta says, "You have to treat natural products as a drug."

Pumi Champa took the Ephedra-containing weight loss supplement Ma Huang for just three weeks when she got shocking news.

Champa said, " I did my routine blood work and i noticed this really crazy, outrageous result that just didn't seem normal for someone like, as healthy as me."

Her doctor said the supplement was damaging her liver and heart.

Dasgupta says bitter orange is a toxic herb used for weight loss. He advises to also avoid Chaparral. He says this energizing supplement wreaks havoc on the liver. And Vohimbe - also known as herbal Viagra - can cause heart problems and high blood pressure.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: An herb is a plant or plant part used for its scent, flavor or therapeutic properties. Herbal medicine products are dietary supplements that people take to improve their health. Many herbs have been used for a long time for claimed health benefits. They are sold as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts and fresh or dried plants. However, some can cause health problems, some are not effective and some may interact with other drugs you are taking. ( Source:

WHAT TO KNOW: Herbal remedies, sometimes called botanicals, aren't new; plants have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. However, herbal supplements haven't been subjected to the same scientific scrutiny and aren't as strictly regulated as medications. Herbal supplements are regulated by the FDA, but not as drugs or as foods. They fall under a category called dietary supplements. ( Source: Web MD )
BAD HERBS: Some herbal supplements — including products labeled as "natural" — have drug-like effects that can be dangerous. So it's important to do your homework and investigate potential benefits and side effects of herbal supplements before you buy.

Kava Kava: Used as a natural sleep aid, it can cause irreversible damage.
Germander: Used for general health, can also cause liver failure.
Bitter orangeis: another toxic weight loss herb.
Chapparal: his energizing supplement wreaks havoc on the liver.
Yohimbe - also known as herbal Viagra: It can cause heart problems and high blood pressure.
To use an herbal product as safely as possible
• Consult your doctor first
• Do not take a bigger dose than the label recommends
• Take it under the guidance of a trained medical professional
• Be especially cautious if you are pregnant or nursing ( Source:

 For More Information, Contact:

Amitava Dasgupta, PhD
UT Health Science Center at Houston

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