Herbal supplements are generally made from herbs or plants, and these supplements are added to the diet for health purposes. Although many of these are not yet officially considered as drugs or medicines, some herbal supplements work the same way as drugs and can have harmful, as well as helpful side effects.
The use of herbs to treat disease and infections is almost universal among traditional, non-industrialized societies. Many of the pharmaceuticals currently available to physicians have a long history of use as herbal remedies, such as opium, aspirin, digitalis, and quinine.
The Use Of Herbal Supplements Is On The Rise
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently estimates that 80 percent of the global population presently uses herbal medicine for some aspects of primary health care. Herbal treatment is a major aspect in all traditional medicine systems, and a common ingredient in homeopathic, Ayurvedic, traditional Chinese and Native American medicine.
According to the WHO, 74% of 119 modern plant-derived medicines are used in methods that are similar to their traditional uses. Major drug firms are currently conducting extensive research on plants and herbs collected from the rainforests and other places for possible new pharmaceuticals.
The use, and search for, drugs and dietary supplements that are derived from plants has increased in recent years. Pharmacologists, botanists, and natural-product chemists are searching and analyzing many plants and phytochemicals that could be developed for treatment of many types of diseases. As a matter of fact, an estimated 25% of modern drugs used in the United States have been sourced from plants.
Are Herbal Supplements And Medications Regulated?
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the main agency that regulates herbal and other dietary supplements, as foods and not as drugs. This ruling means that these supplements have not yet met the same standards as drugs for proof of safety, effectiveness, and quality. A producer, for example, can sell an herbal product without proving that it truly works.
The labels on herbal products may not be complete or accurate. The active ingredients in many herbal supplements are not verified, and in some cases, the information on the bottle may not be the same as what's on the label. In the past, some herbal supplements have been tainted with metals, drugs, and germs.
As such, any claim a manufacturer makes about an herbal supplement's effect must be followed by a disclaimer, like: "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." Be sure to check product labels and avoid supplements that promise to cure specific health problems.
Be Sure To Take Herbal Supplements Safely
Follow these tips and precautions, in order for you to be on the safe side when taking herbal supplements:
- Consult your health care provider before using any herbal supplement, especially if you're taking other medicines, or non-prescription drugs, or if you're pregnant or breast-feeding. Don't take herbal products for serious medical conditions without consulting with your health care provider first.
- Make sure to read labels carefully. Purchase only supplements that are approved by the American Botanical Council's Commission E, a reputable committee that evaluates the safety and efficacy of herbal supplements.
- Talk with a licensed pharmacist or other health care professional if you have concerns, or further questions about an herbal supplement. Take note that the clerks at health food stores are only salespersons, not health care professionals.
- Purchase herbal supplements from a reputable herbal manufacturers. Be wary about products that are sold through magazines, brochures, TV, radio, or the Internet. Learn more about herbal supplements from reputable sources.
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