People are fond of taking dietary supplements because of their attractive promises for better health. Just like any other medicine, however, studies show that these dietary aids may also pose health risks.

In a new study, Australian researchers discovered that chromium, which is commonly taken by bodybuilders and dieters, partially converts into a carcinogen when it enters cells.

"We were able to show that oxidation of chromium inside the cell does occur, as it loses electrons and transforms into a carcinogenic form," says lead author Lindsay Wu from the University of NSW.

Chromium is available over the counter and is also taken by diabetic patients for insulin regulation. The findings of the new research now raise concerns about the long term effects of chromium.

"We can't say for certain whether it increases the risk of cancer ... [but] the fact that we can generate the carcinogenic form in living cells is quite a concern," says Wu.

Dietary supplements contain ingredients such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes and are sold in the form of capsules, tablets, liquids and powders. While these substances may claim that they can be a vital source of nutrients and can help reduce health risks, they should not be taken as a full replacement for meals. People should still eat a variety of food to ensure that they get all the necessary nutrients naturally needed by the body.

Aside from chromium, other dietary supplements may pose health risks. The U.S. FDA says that many supplements have active components that have strong biological effects. Such property may make these products unsafe in some events and may complicate health.

For example, vitamin E, which was believed to have protective properties for the heart, was found to increase the risk of bleeding strokes. Studies also show that folic acid and other B vitamins contribute to cancer risks if taken in high doses. Ultimately, experts were not able to confirm that those substances prevented strokes and heart diseases as previously believed.

In 2013, U.S. poison control centers received more than 100,000 calls due to exposure to dietary supplements. Among this number, over 8,000 individuals had to be treated in a medical facility. More than 1,000 had moderate to severe conditions. Such number did not include minerals and electrolytes, which accounted for 2,500 cases that had to be treated in health care centers.

Supplement administration practices may contribute to the rise of health risks. Among the interventions that may give rise to unwanted consequences include combining supplements, taking supplements with prescription or over-the-counter drugs, substituting prescription drugs with supplements, overdosage and contraindications to certain medical and surgical procedures.

Among the most common dietary supplements available in the market include calcium, fish oil, ginseng, glucosamine, green tea and gingko. With the countless products being made available everywhere, coupled with the increased interest of consumers in boosting their health, there is no question about the popularity of dietary supplements now.

People should be careful in choosing the correct and safe products for them and be mindful of unwanted clinical effects before, during and after intake. In the U.S., the FDA is not responsible for authorizing dietary supplements, hence strict caution is advised.

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