There is a booming market for herbal and dietary supplements in the US. We’ll try any pill or herb that claims to make our minds sharper or our stress levels lower. Anything is worth experimenting with once if it can boost our productivity.

While most over-the-counter herbal supplements are perfectly safe, some of the pills you may be taking could be harmful to your health. If you’ve been consuming any herbal supplements to improve the number of productive hours you have each day, familiarize yourself with some of the potential side effects below.

DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to treat, prevent, or cure any ailment. Always consult your doctor before starting a herbal supplement regimen to make sure that there are no complications due to your health or any other medications that you may currently be taking.

1. Caffeine

Okay, caffeine doesn’t really count as a dietary supplement…but so many of us consume it daily in such large quantities that it is worth discussing its effects the body.

As a drug that can boost energy levels, caffeine is one of our oldest pick-me-ups. However, too much caffeine causes stomach problems, jitters, insomnia, and dehydration. Avoid the energy drinks and over-sized espresso drinks, and stick to one small cup of coffee at a time.

2. Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba herbal supplements are taken by people looking to increase their memory or concentration, making them a popular choice with both students and those over 50. There is also some evidence to suggest ginko supplements can aid with preventing further memory loss for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, although additional study is needed.

However, if you take ginkgo with Ibuprofen or any blood thinners (such as Coumadin or aspirin), this can enhance the anticoagulant properties of these medications. This can cause excessive bleeding or increased chance of bruising.

3. St. John’s Wort

Pale-skinned, depressed ladies beware! There is one herbal supplement you may need to steer clear of. St. John’s Wort is an herb that can decrease feelings of depression and elevate your mood.

However, if you take it every day, you’ll need to start amping up your SPF, as this herb has been linked to severe sun reactions.

More troubling, St. John’s Wort can increase the rate at which estrogen is broken down by the body…and for ladies on the birth control pill, that can mean increased risk of unintended pregnancy.

4. Kava

Kava is used to calm anxiety, stress, and restlessness, and treat insomnia. However, it can exacerbate depression symptoms, and can also cause liver damage. If you already are suffering from liver disease, or are taking meds that increase the sensitivity of your liver, talk to you doctor before starting a kava regimen.

5. Yohimbe

Yohimbe bark has a variety of uses, including treating sexual dysfunction for men and women, boosting energy for athletes, and aiding in weight loss. However, yohimbe seems to cause more problems than it is probably worth.

Minor side effects of taking yohimbe bark include upset stomach, vomiting, irregular sleep patterns, elevated blood pressure, headaches, irritability, skin rashes, and rapid heartbeat.

If you overindulge in this supplement, you may also face diminished respiratory function, high fever, kidney problems, and lupus-like symptoms.

6. Echinacea

Echinacea is a common choice for people looking to get over a common cold. It’s worth noting that echinacea shouldn’t be used for preventing a cold, but rather just for shortening the duration of cold symptoms.

However, people who are allergic to ragweed or daisy pollen can have a similar allergic reaction to echinacea. This herbal supplement can also cause caffeine to break down more slowly, prolonging the caffeine jitters.

People suffering from disease like lupus, MS, or rheumatoid arthritis should also avoid echinacea, since it can interfere adversely with immune system processes in certain cases.

Conclusion

If you want to learn more about the side effects of common herbal supplements like the ones listed above, the National Institute of Health’s Medline Plus site is an invaluable resource.

While herbal supplements are usually safe for most people, many supplements are not endorsed by the FDA, and women who are pregnant or nursing need to be especially careful before starting a supplement regime. Herbal supplements can be a great way to increase your productivity, but only if you can handle the side effects.

When purchasing herbal supplements, make sure to buy them from reputable dealers. According to one doctor interviewed by PBS, some herbal supplements contain filler like grass or chamomile, and up to 30% of some herbal supplement pills on the market do not contain the main ingredient advertised on the label.

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