When companies label food or supplements as “all natural,” they may be hoping that you will assume their products are safer and better than other products. However, in the context of foods or supplements, it is very difficult to know what is meant by “all-natural.” In fact, even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes the difficulty in defining this term, and it has not associated the term “natural” with any nutritional or other health benefit.
Here are four reasons why you should be skeptical if you see “all natural” on a label:
1. “All-natural” is not always natural.
Unfortunately, some companies intentionally mislead consumers about the ingredients in their supplements. For instance, some manufacturers may advertise an “all-natural” weight loss pill, but then spike it with sibutramine, which is an investigational drug that was removed from the market for safety reasons. Other companies may advertise herbal sex-enhancement pills, but when tested, these pills frequently contain powerful and synthetic Viagra-like drugs.
2. Natural is not always safe.
There are plenty of things that are natural that are not safe, such as hemlock, arsenic, and various other poisons produced by plants and animals. Because anyone can produce supplements without prior experience or training, you can’t assume that manufacturers understand ingredients or how to use them safely.
In the supplement industry, another issue is that some manufacturers try to make ingredients appear natural by using misleading names. For example, there are numerous supplements available to consumers that list “geranium oil” on the label, but the products actually contain methylhexanamine, a synthetically produced stimulant that is prohibited in-competition.
3. Natural doesn’t mean there are no prohibited ingredients.
“Natural” herbal products may also pose an anti-doping risk to athletes because, although it is rare, some plants naturally produce substances prohibited in sport. For example Cannabis sativa naturally produces prohibited THC; the ephedra plant produces prohibited ephedrine and pseudoephedrine; Citrus aurantium (orange peel or bitter orange) produces prohibited octopamine; and Tinospora cripsa produces prohibited higenamine.
It’s also worth noting that herbal supplements sometimes naturally contain compounds that could interact with each other or with medications. If you are considering using an herbal product, you should consult a specialist to understand what compounds are produced by the plant and the potential interactions.
4. Safe is not always natural.
On the other hand, there are many safe and healthy supplement ingredients that are not naturally derived or harvested. For example, the FDA allows some nutrients to be synthesized in a factory and sold in supplements, such as vitamin C. This means that you shouldn’t put too much stake in the fact that something is “natural,” or think that it is inherently better just because it’s natural.
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Understand the Risks
While athletes and consumers need to be particularly aware of these four things when considering “all- natural” products, it’s also important to remember that the use of any dietary supplement is at your own risk. Visit Supplement 411 for more information on how to realize, recognize, and reduce the risks associated with supplements.