Do Herbal Supplements Really Work?

If you believe in the power of herbs, then aloe vera is all you need to get lustrous and healthy hair. You don’t need expensive medicine to drive away your cold. Just get some Echinacea. Need to improve your memory? Ginkgo will do the trick. Flaxseed is the answer to your high cholesterol concerns and cranberry will kick your urinary tract infection to the curb.

Really, for every illness or condition, there’s a plant that can cure it. There’s acai, chamomile, dandelion, garlic, hawthorn, sage, mistletoe and so much more. Each one of them has their own medicinal properties.

Botanicals or herbal supplements have been used for ages. Our ancestors have been using plants as medicine for as long as man can remember. Interestingly, they’ve never been extensively researched by the scientific community. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t strictly regulate herbal drugs either, unlike other drugs and foods.

Because of this, many ‘natural’ products get on market shelves and people don’t get any warnings on any of the possible drug-like effects.

Let’s get one thing straight. Plant remedies do work. Why would your elders keep using them if they don’t? But with herbal supplements? They’re another matter. Not being strictly monitored by the agencies, it’s even more important to do your homework before taking any of them. It’s vital that you learn to separate what works and what doesn’t.

The Safety of Herbal Supplements

The FDA categorizes herbal supplements as dietary supplements. Rules indicate that:

  • Manufacturers must have FDA approval before putting the dietary supplement on the market.
  • Claims that the product addresses nutrient deficiency, support health or is linked to bodily functions must be supported by research.
  • A disclaimer indicating the FDA has not evaluated the claims must be clearly indicated on the label.
  • Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) must be followed
  • If the product is found to be unsafe, the FDA can take action against the manufacturer, distributor, or both. They may issue a warning and even require for the removal of the product from the market.

The rules were placed to ensure quality standards are met. It’s also meant to assure consumers that the FDA will intervene to remove dangerous products from the market.

The Composition of Herbal Supplements

To know what exactly comprises each herbal pill, manufacturers are required to include the following information on bottle labels:

  • name of product
  • manufacturer’s and/or distributor’s name and address
  • complete list of ingredients
  • serving size
  • serving amount
  • active ingredient

Is There Any Truth to the Claims?

Herbal supplements promise a lot of things, from getting rid of belly fat fast, to helping you focus better and having more energy, to providing all the daily fiber your body needs.

But is there any truth to these claims?

It’s not always easy to believe the promises being made by the manufacturers of herbal supplements. Some of them are just too amazing. Lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks by taking a pill before every meal? When you’ve been exercising and dieting like crazy for the last 12 months? Yeah, it does sound absurd.

Manufacturers are actually the ones responsible for ensuring there isn’t any false advertising or misleading statements being used on these supplements. The FDA also requires adequate evidence to back up the claims.

Err on the safe side though and consider the following before buying.

  1. Talk to your doctor first.
  2. Read up on scientific research findings.
  3. Contact the manufacturer.

When Not to Use Herbal Supplements

If you suffer from any health issues, you should avoid herbal supplements. At least until after your doctor says it’s okay.

There may be instances where your doctor may actually just tell you not to use a herbal supplement altogether:

  • When you’re taking other prescription drugs or medication. Some plants do not interact well with certain medicines and may cause serious side effects.
  • When you’re pregnant and breast-feeding.
  • When you’re scheduled for surgery.
  • When you’re younger than 18 or older than 65.

How to Use Herbal Supplements

If you your doctor says it’s okay, and you have determined that herbal supplements are safe and will in fact work, play it safe and follow these tips:

  1. Always follow the herbal supplement instructions.
  2. Monitor how the supplement affects you.
  3. Be wary of non-US manufactured supplements.
  4. Check FDA alerts and advisories.

Herbal supplements may have a lot of beneficial properties. Many allow you to supplement the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you otherwise can’t get from food alone. Some are good natural alternatives to curing ailments. But they’re also not as regulated as the usual drugs are, and therefore need to be used only with the consent of a certified medical provider.