Herbal Supplements

Herbal Supplements

Plants have been used for health purposes for thousands of years. Today, many Americans choose to take nutritional supplements in the form of herbs or botanicals in order to maintain health. Advertisements for certain herbal supplements may claim to improve memory, immune system functioning, digestion, sleep, or libido. While some herbal supplements actually work, it is important to be critical of these claims when deciding whether or not a herbal supplement is right for you. Some herbal supplements may cause unwanted side effects, interact with medication you are already taking, or be dangerous for your baby if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Regulation

Herbal supplements are regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but not as strictly as prescription drugs or food products. In fact, manufacturers of herbal supplements don’t need to get approval from the FDA before making their products available for public consumption. Companies are required to keep proof that their products are manufactured according to certain quality standards and do not contain any dangerous ingredients or contaminants. However, companies are allowed to market herbal supplements using claims that have not been evaluated by the FDA. As a result, it is important to be critical of claims that seem too good to be true. Just because a product is made from a plant or is described as “natural” doesn’t mean that it is completely safe.

woman asian taking pill

Effectiveness

The effectiveness of a herbal supplement depends not only on the company manufacturing it, but also the type of herbal supplement it is. Companies are required by law to ensure that any claims about their products are not falsified; however, without the FDA to evaluate those claims, it is difficult to be sure. The only way to know whether a particular product is effective is to do some research of your own. The first step is speaking to your doctor or pharmacist. He or she may have information about the effectiveness of the product. You may also be able to search for scientific research about the product or herbal supplement online, through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, otherwise known as “NCCAM”. If you still have questions, call the manufacturer and ask to speak with someone who has information about the research used to back up claims.

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Risks

Taking any herbal supplement comes with risks. Supplements may contain active ingredients that create a strong effect in the body such as an interaction with prescription medication you are already taking. It is important to speak to your doctor prior to taking medication. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid herbal supplements altogether if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking over-the-counter or prescription medication, scheduled to have surgery, under the age of 18 or older the age of 65.

Tips

If you decide to take a supplement, it is important to follow the instructions given on the supplement packaging. You should not exceed the recommended dosage or take the substance for longer than is recommended. You should check the alerts posted on the FDA and NCCAM websites that include products that have been known to produce adverse effects. Be critical of any product manufactured outside of the United States and keep a record of what you are taking as you would with prescription medication.