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The Truth About Herbal Supplements

Aug 1, 2014
Herbal supplements are an area of interest for many people looking for natural ways to conquer a cold, lose weight, or fight infection. For example, for many years, Echinacea has been used to fight cold symptoms. However, there is not any conclusive evidence that shows this to be true and in some cases, high dosages of Echinacea may be harmful. You may wonder how something that could harm you is out in the market. This is because herbal supplements are not as regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as medicines, and therefore, numerous herbs are on the market, all claiming to improve various health conditions but with no concrete proof.

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While medicines and food need to seek approval from the FDA prior to marketing to consumers, herbal supplements don't follow the same scrutiny. Instead, dietary supplements only need to mention that research backs up the claim yet the FDA did not evaluate the research and this disclaimer must be shown on the label.  However, the FDA still regulates the safety of a product, once it is on the market. Therefore if an herbal supplement is shown to be extremely harmful, the FDA will require the supplement to be removed from the shelves.
 
As a result, the FDA is still protecting you, but you still need to be careful what supplements you use. The FDA requires the label to include the name, manufacturer information, nutrition information, and an inclusive list of ingredients. Different brands of the same supplement may have different ingredients- some that may affect your health or negatively interact with medicine. If you ever decide to use a supplement, make sure that it will not interfere with any daily medication that you take. Also, carefully follow directions on the label for use, and do not exceed the recommended dosage.

Claims on the supplement label are not supposed to make false claims, however, keep in mind that the actual research study results have not been evaluated by the FDA. If you ever have any doubt or question about a certain supplement, your doctor is a good source. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is also a good internet resource. Updated by the National Institutes of Health, common herbal supplements can be found on this website with information on how effective it is. There are still some proven good herbal supplements. For instance, fish oils, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, have been scientifically shown to lower triglycerides, a type of fat found in both the body and food that can lead to high cholesterol.

In sum, herbal supplements may or may not have benefits to you. Do your research thoroughly before trying a new regimen. Remember that while the FDA does not strictly regulate herbal supplements, they still must follow standard safety rules and information can easily be researched via the internet or through your doctor.

Rhea Li is a Registered Dietitian who received her Bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Master's degree in Public Health from the University of Texas. She has a special interest in working with children and has received her certification in pediatric weight management. Currently, she is working on a research study to determine the importance of nutrition in pediatric cancer patients. In the past, she has worked with pregnant women and their children. In her spare time, she enjoys being with family, exercising, traveling and of course, eating.


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