Taking Herbs Safely
People have been taking herbs to cure ailments and improve their health for centuries, and only now are we beginning to truly understand them. But just because herbs have been around for a long time, it doesn't mean they are intrinsically safe to use. In fact, certain herbs can be just as potent and deadly as prescription drugs, and many prescription drugs are actually derived from herbal products. So make sure to do your research before you decide to take any herbal supplement.
Side Effects And Interactions
Natural does not mean safe. Just like Western medications, many medicinal herbs have side effects and can be harmful if taken in too great a quantity. For example, kava and hoodia have been linked to liver damage.
Herbs and drugs interact with each other. Just like you should be wary of taking certain combinations of prescription medications, you should also be wary of combining certain herbs with either each other or with certain prescription medications. Herbs may interact with each other or with other medications to create drug combinations that could cause harmful negative effects or even overdoses. In addition, the mechanisms of many herbal medications are not even know yet, therefore you must be careful when using them.
Pregnant women and women who are nursing should be especially cautious about taking herbal supplements since their effects on the baby may not be known.
For the reasons listed above, it is important to talk to your doctor about any herbal supplement you may want to take. If you are using herbal supplements, you should do so under the guidance of a professional trained and certified in herbal medicine.
Regulation and Labeling
In the United States, herbal supplements are regulated under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as foods rather than drugs. This means the herbs do not have to meet the same standards as prescription drugs and over the counter medications for safety, effectiveness, and good manufacturing processes. In other words, herbs are not as rigorously tested and monitored as prescription drugs and over the counter medications.
Analyses of the contents of some herbal supplements have also shown discrepancies in what's listed on the label and what's actually in the supplement in terms of amounts and contents. This means you may actually be taking more or less of what you think you are consuming, and there may be other ingredients in your pills, oils, extracts, or powers that you do not know about. Some herbal supplements have even been found to be contaminated with metals, unlabeled prescription drugs, microorganisms, or other substances.
Labels containing the words "standardized," certified," and verified" do not actually mean anything. There is no legal definition of these words for supplements in the United States. Any manufacturer could put these words on their labels no matter what the contents.
For these reasons, make sure you buy herbs from manufacturers you trust or manufacturers who have been recommended to you by your doctor or herbalist.
Since the advent of the internet, there have been a number of websites selling and promoting herbal supplements. Some of these sites may make false or misleading claims about their products. Make sure you evaluate statements thoroughly and buy wisely.