Are herbal health products and supplements safe?

Herbs aren’t necessarily safer than the ingredients in over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines just because they come from nature. Although herbal health products and supplements are advertised as “natural,” their ingredients aren’t necessarily natural to the human body. They may have strong effects on your body. They can also cause unpleasant health effects (also called adverse effects). Researchers have studied the benefits and risks of some herbal health products and supplements, but others need to be studied more.

Herbal health products

They have become a billion-dollar industry. An herb, or botanical, is a plant or part of a plant that people use to try to stay healthy, or to treat health conditions and illnesses. An herbal health product or supplement (also called a botanical product) is a type of dietary supplement that contains one or more herbs.

These supplements can have strong effects on the body but are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are available in many forms, including in tea bags, capsules, tablets, liquids, and powders.

Things to Consider.....

Are herbal health products and supplements regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

All of the OTC and prescription medicines you can buy have to be “approved” as safe and effective by the FDA. But the FDA defines dietary supplements as a category of food, not as drugs. For this reason, the FDA doesn’t require proof of their safety and effectiveness to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure health conditions. Instead, it’s up to the manufacturer to be sure that an herbal health product or supplement is safe before it is sold.

The FDA can take herbal health products or supplements off the market if they are found to be unsafe (for example, if they cause serious adverse effects) or are found to contain ingredients that aren’t listed on the label (for example, harmful substances).

How can I find out what is in herbal health products and supplements?

By law, manufacturers of herbal health products and supplements are responsible for making sure their labels are accurate and truthful. The FDA requires the following information on labels:

  1. Name of the product or supplement.
  2. Name and the address of the manufacturer or distributor.
  3. Complete list of ingredients.
  4. Amount of product or supplement in the container or package.

Avoid any herbal health product or supplement that does not list this information.

The National Institutes of Health maintains the Dietary Supplement Label Database. It is an online database that gives label information for thousands of dietary supplements. You can look up supplements by brand name, active ingredient, or manufacturer.

How can I use herbal health products or supplements safely?

Don’t take any herbal health products or supplements without talking to your family doctor first. If you do use an herbal health product or supplement, read the directions on the label to learn how much to take and how often to take it. You should never take more than the recommended amount. If you have any questions about how much to take, ask your doctor.

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