Herbal Supplements Buyers Guide

Herbs are ancient medicines and medicine is not for everyone. Ge some facts before you buy.

There are at least as many claims to solutions as there is a problem. Your path to finding real solutions begins with you questioning the validity of the claim and the authority of the source.

Does echinacea prevent a cold? Does Ginkgo Biloba improve memory? Does flaxseed lower cholesterol?

Manufacturers of botanicals which is another name for herbal supplements may say yes.

You need to remember that the use of herbs as medicine is ancient and much of the information comes from anecdotal evidence without any scientific research. You also need to remember that scientific research is expensive and without a potential financial reward, it is not likely to happen.

Two other factors you need to consider before you buy discount herbal supplements.

The first is that supplements are not regulated as medication by Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That specific oversight essentially does not exist.

The second is that the “natural” remedies that use herbs do not make them safe. Herbs are potent, and they could carry very dangerous side effects. Remember that tornadoes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are also natural, but you don’t necessarily want to have them.

Anytime a claim, even a valid claim of substantial change in your body is presented such as mood change, lowered cholesterol, or improved immune response, you must know that the change in your body was strong enough to create it. With such a strong change, you must also ask what else is connected to such a strong impact and who is involved.

Common sense dictates that you talk to your physician, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, having health problems, and taking medication.

Common sense also dictates that you do your homework and dig a little deeper than reading a sales brochure made by the manufacturer especially when they advertise it as cheap supplements.

How safe are herbal supplements?

You should also ask how do we ensure the safety of supplements. The first line of defense is a reliable regulatory agency such as FDA.  FDA does not regulate nutritional and dietary supplements as drugs. But they do regulate them as food that is completely different.

Below is the list of the differences.

Supplement manufacturers don’t need FDA approval before they begin selling them. They can also legally claim that a product can address a nutrient deficit, and it could support a health condition. IF they make a research-based claim, they only have to add a disclaimer that FDA hasn’t evaluated their claim, and they are off the hook.

However, supplement manufacturers must follow good manufacturing practices and consistent quality standards to ensure that wrong ingredients and contaminants do not find their way into the supplements. Contaminates like pesticides and lead.  They also need to make sure that the right ingredients in the right amount is included.

FDA is responsible for continuous monitoring of dietary supplements regardless of they are labeled as “discount supplements” or “quality supplements.” If the supplements are found to be unsafe, FDA can take action including removing the product from the market.

These regulations provide some assurance that herbal supplements meet certain standards related to quality and FDA can step in when those standards are not followed.

Think about it.  FDA steps in when a dietary supplement poses a threat that is after some harm has come to someone. These rules do not guarantee safety.  Nor do they guarantee how you and me as consumers mix and match what we eat. Some supplements alone may be perfectly fine. When you combine them with other supplements or prescription medication, you could create some very nasty and even deadly side effects.

What’s in the herbal supplements?

The supplement name, the manufacturer or distributor’s name, a complete list of ingredients as well as serving size, amount, and active ingredients must be labeled according to FDA requirements.

Dietary Supplement Label Database from the National Institute of Health could help you compare ingredients.

However, third-party references like the one you find in PDR for Herbal  Medicines are invaluable.

Physicians Desk Reference® is a comprehensive reference that includes scientific findings, the validity of claims, and the reliability of the research. Two additional resources that could help you research are the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Office of Dietary Supplements. Before you accept a claim, do ask questions and do what you can to substantiate them.

Additional Safety Reminders About Herbal Supplements

Once again, treat herbal supplements as medicine and talk to your physician before trying them. If you are taking medication regardless of them being prescription or over the counter, know that there is a potential for interactions.

Pregnancy, breastfeeding, preparation for surgery, and age below 18 and over 65 require even more caution.

Manufacturers outside the US do not have the same quality standards. At this time, European countries have much higher regulatory standards than China, India, and Mexico.

Keep a written record of what you take.

Keep up with the latest alerts. FDA and NCCAM maintain a list you can check on their website.