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Herbal Supplements: What You Need to Know Before You Start Using Them

Updated: Mar 12, 2023




People have been using herbal supplements for centuries in an effort to prevent illnesses, heal their ailments, regulate their moods and even in attempt to lose weight. There are many types of herbal supplements, some of them more common than others. It is wise to learn what exactly is in a supplement before you start using it, how it might react with other supplements or medications you are taking and if it is safe to use.


What is an Herbal Supplement?

An herbal supplement is sometimes referred to as a botanical, this is because it is a product that is derived from plants, flowers, their seeds, roots or oils. Herbal supplements are believed to offer healing qualities to people without being a prescription medicine. Herbal supplements come in many different forms, including pills, teas, oils, liquid extract, bath salts, and salves.


Safety of Herbal Supplements

The rules and regulations for herbal supplements are a lot looser than those established for prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does require manufacturers to submit written safety detail on certain products, but they are not authorized to qualify supplements as safe or effective before they are sold.


Not everything that is listed on an herbal supplement label is actually found in the product and there are things in a product that may not be listed on the label. Furthermore, unlike other medications, herbal supplements are not required to standardize their batches, meaning not all supplements of the same kind are identical.


Serious health problems can occur if herbal supplements are taken in combination with a prescription medicine that interacts with the herbal supplement. Always check with your doctor before starting a supplement to get their advice as well as have it recorded on your medication list for future reference.

Common Herbal Supplements and Their Uses

The most common herbal supplements used and their suspected uses:


Echinacea

Prevention of colds, boosts immunity

Ginko Bilboa

Improve circulation and prevent memory loss

Ginseng

Improve energy, reduce stress

Green Tea

Prevent certain cancers, lower cholesterol and aid in weight loss

Saw Palmetto

Treats enlarged prostate

St. John’s Wort

Enhances mood

This list demonstrates how the public can be lured into taking an herbal supplement without having an official medical diagnosis. The claims on some products can be misleading and appeal to people who might end up doing more harm to their health than good.

How to Be Proactive Before Choosing to Take an Herbal Supplement

It is important to be well informed before making the choice to start using herbal supplements. Before starting any new regimen:


  1. Educate yourself as much as possible. Do your research on the supplement as well as the company who manufactures the product.

  2. Work with a professional that can help you navigate your health journey. A trained herbalist or a naturopathic doctor will have high level expertise in this area and is a good person to seek sound advice from.

  3. Familiarize yourself with potential side effects or allergy warnings and stop taking the supplement if you notice anything concerning.

  4. Only use as directed. Do not overuse any product or take it if advised not to.


References:


Dietary and Herbal Supplements. Available at https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/dietary-and-herbal-supplements Accessed on 1/12/23


Herbal Supplements. Available at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/15829-herbal-supplements Accessed on 1/12/23


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