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I've heard gingko biloba might cause cancer. How do I know if my supplements are safe?

We asked Dr. Davis Liu, a practicing board-certified family doctor, blogger, and author of "The Thrifty Patient: Vital Insider Tips for Saving Money and Staying Healthy."

By Sally Wadyka Jun 25, 2013 5:48PM

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With new studies coming out all the time and limited oversight by the FDA on supplements, it can be hard to decide what’s safe to take and what actually might be doing you more harm than good. And misconceptions abound.

Thomas Winz/Getty Images

According to Dr. Liu, 59 percent of Americans believe that supplements must be approved by the FDA and 55 percent believe that any health claims supplements make must be backed by solid scientific evidence. “Neither is true,” he says. “Unlike over-the-counter or prescription drugs, makers of dietary supplements do not need FDA approval before selling their products.”

It’s also worth noting that most studies—including the recent one on gingko biloba—involved people (or animals) taking megadoses of whatever vitamin or supplement was being researched. “It’s clear that megadoses can often have harmful effects and that we are all better off getting the majority of our nutrients through natural, dietary sources,” says Liu. The safest approach: Discuss all supplements with your doctor to find out which ones might be worth trying and which ones are just a waste of money—or worse.

Find Dr. Liu online and on Twitter.

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Jul 3, 2013 12:20PM
A drug company's worst nightmare is a healthy nation. No money in healthy or "cured" people.
Jul 4, 2013 12:37AM
Yur doctor doesn't have a clue about supplements.
Jul 3, 2013 5:18PM

Medical Doctors are not trained in herbal medicine and don't have a clue. One should instead ask someone educated and licensed in herbal medicines, this would be your Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine practitioner or Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.  These doctors have 10 to 11 years of full-time academic study of herbs and acupuncture and are qualified to answer your questions. 

Jul 4, 2013 2:51AM
I have breathing problems and the Doctors put me on drugs but I knew I had another problem my lungs are damage from working with chemicals so I started to take diff. vitamins' plus B complex and now I can breath much better also my sugar level went down to so it pays to try other ways .
Aug 27, 2013 10:01PM
FDA approved drugs have caused many more fatalities than dietary supplements yet the media keeps warning about the dangers of dietary supplements. Why do you think that is?
Jun 25, 2013 10:34PM

I am tired to listen to all these B.S. from all those "genius".

Aug 27, 2013 10:22PM
I have a Life Extension Foundation book that presents the FDA drugs on one side: the corresponding supplements on the other, with explanations on how each works.         Also other info is provided on correct dosages, etc..                                                              I have found this book to be very informative on the proper use of supplements.           I understand that efforts are being made to give the FDA control of the supplement     market.   This would  be a disaster!    Write to your reps in congress in opposition to this proposal .    If this is allowed to happen, you will have to see a doctor for a script to buy Vitamin E, etc., at  triple the price.
Aug 27, 2013 9:10PM
I take it works greens this is wonderful if you have pains or infections my tale bone
was always infected it completely gone now two weeks woo hoo

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