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‘Food supplements can be risky, tell consumers what they contain’

The mention of plants on packaging can be ‘falsely reassuring’ for consumers and gloss over the potentially ‘severe’ risks, the French food safety agency has said

Food supplement packaging can be ‘falsely reassuring’, Anses said, and warned people to be aware of possible side effects, contraindications, and medical interactions Pic: Image Point Fr / Shutterstock

Some food supplements can cause serious side effects including severe allergies and liver problems, France’s food safety and environmental agency has warned, as it called for better labelling on packs.

Anses (l’Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l'alimentation, de l'environnement et du travail) undertook its own research into food supplements, and analysed 118 plants including within them. In a report published on June 8, it sought to alert consumers about the possible unwanted side effects.

‘Falsely reassuring’

It particularly mentioned that on many of the supplements’ packaging, “no notice” warns consumers of the risks. 

It said: “Simply mentioning the presence of plants in food supplements can sometimes be falsely reassuring for consumers, even though some plants may present a risk under certain conditions of use.”

The agency has now called for manufacturers to “explicitly state any restrictions on use linked to the presence of plants, in the package leaflet or on the packaging”.

What are the risks?

The risks “depend on the type of plant extract or the sensitivity of particular populations, such as pregnant women or children,” Anses added.

Some food supplements can even cause severe allergies or “potentially deadly” liver problems, it explained.

Where can I find out more about the safety of food supplements?

The agency has also published a PDF list of the 118 medicinal supplement plants that it analysed, as well as:

  • Relevant precautions to take

  • Recommendations

  • Contra-indications (when not to take them)
    Potential medical interactions to avoid (when taking a supplement could interact badly with medication you are already taking)

It has also compiled an Excel table, which includes information on each of the plants analysed. This list is intended to help doctors, nutritionists, and pharmacists to provide better support for patients or people taking food supplements.

You can download the excel table by clicking here.

It concluded: “We remind people again that taking plant-based food supplements is not without risk. These products, far from being anodyne, can cause unwanted side-effects.”

What if I think I’m experiencing side effects from a food supplement? 

You can report any unwanted food supplement side effects to Nutrivigilance 

Your first port of call should always be a doctor, or failing that, a pharmacist. You can also report any undesirable effects to Nutrivigilance, which is Anses’ web portal through which consumers and healthcare professionals can report unwanted food supplement effects.

You can report online, download and fill in a paper form and send it by post, or contact the agency by email via

Healthcare professionals are also reminded to ask patients about their consumption of food supplements, and you are recommended to volunteer this information to your doctor if they do not ask.

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