19 April 2024

ChatGPT lists some supplements to stay away from

I take a regimen of dietary supplements, including coQ10, D3, nicotinamide riboside, pterostilbene, PQQ, berberine, a blend of saw palmetto and other things supposedly promoting prostate health, and a few others. I try to make sure that at minimum they're not harming me. Anyway, I asked Chat GPT if there were supplements that doctors generally advise their patients NOT to take in most circumstances. You have to ask these questions right or CGPT will refuse to answer (it won't give medical advice (or legal advice) per se, for obvious reasons). This was its answer:

There are several dietary supplements that many doctors generally disapprove of and may recommend against in most circumstances due to concerns about their safety, effectiveness, or potential interactions with other medications. Some of these include:
  1. Kava: Often used for stress and anxiety relief, Kava has been linked to serious liver damage, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure in some cases. Due to these risks, it is banned or restricted in several countries.
  2. Colloidal Silver: Touted for its supposed immune-boosting properties, colloidal silver can cause serious side effects, such as argyria (a permanent bluish-gray discoloration of the skin) and potential kidney damage. It provides no known benefits in the body when taken orally.
  3. Aristolochic Acids: Found in some traditional herbal remedies, aristolochic acids have been linked to kidney failure and urinary tract cancers. They are considered carcinogenic and have been banned in many countries, but they might still be found in some supplements.
  4. DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine): Often included in weight loss and bodybuilding supplements, DMAA has been linked to serious health issues such as cardiac arrest, headaches, and tremors. The FDA has warned against its use due to safety concerns.
  5. Yohimbe: Used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction and also in weight loss supplements, Yohimbe can cause erratic blood pressure, rapid heart rate, headaches, seizures, and kidney failure. It has significant potential for serious side effects, particularly in people with heart disease or hypertension.
  6. Comfrey: While traditionally used to heal wounds, bruises, and for joint inflammation, comfrey has substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage and are also carcinogenic. It is unsafe for ingestion and advised against even in topical use over large areas or on broken skin.
  7. Bitter Orange (Synephrine): Commonly marketed as an alternative to the now-banned stimulant ephedra for weight loss, bitter orange can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, leading to cardiovascular problems.
Doctors typically advise that supplements should not replace whole foods and a balanced diet. Before starting any supplement, especially for those with pre-existing conditions or who are taking other medications, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional to assess potential risks and benefits.

Fortunately, I don't take any of these. I did try Kava (which I consider a drug, not a supplement) once, but didn't like it and wouldn't take something like that on a regular basis anyway. (Portland actually has at least one "kava bar," which seems to me to be a very questionable business venture, especially without prominent health warnings, of which, I gather, there are none). Yohimbe is pretty well known to be dodgy, and all the ephedrine-adjacents are pretty obvious stay aways.

The list is hardly exhaustive, especially if you include "traditional herbal remedies," which is sort of a euphemism for "raw plant material drugs." Quite a few of these, such as Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis spp., often mixed with Psychotria viridis), are as dangerous as cocaine or opium, just not as well known. I'd say the jury is out on kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), which some doctors think of as just another addictive opioid-adjacent, but which remains legal and pretty widely used in many parts of the US. As a friend of mine wisely pointed out, just because plant alkaloids have been used in some traditional societies for a long time doesn't mean they're safe; different people, often with particular genetic profiles common in a regional population, may have very different tolerances and variations in liver function, such that what is a benign drug to some people may be toxic and quite dangerous to other people. This is even more true across species lines, interestingly: I read where the commonly used topical NSAID diclofenac is so toxic to cattle that a normal human dose can actually kill them. Just something to think about. Unfortunately, supplements and "herbals" aren't really regulated for safety. If you use them, it's caveat procuator.

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