Beware of Herbal Supplements

Clever advertising may lead to the belief that herbal supplements will supply a needed remedy for a health concern. But supplements require special scrutiny. It’s common to see television commercials touting the benefits of herbal supplements. You’ve no doubt seen advertisements for gingko biloba that’s suggested to be effective for treating anxiety and glaucoma; Prevagen, advertised to improve memory; and St. John’s Wort, which is recommended to combat depression. Many adults purchase these over-the-counter drugs in the hope they’ll live up to the hype surrounding their presentation and packaging. But questions surround many such products, particularly with respect to their effectiveness and safety.

According to a study published on in 2015, about one in five American adults uses herbal supplements. Analysis performed by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that about 59 million Americans spend money out of pocket on complementary health alternatives, or non- prescription vitamins, herbs, and other supplements. The total annual spending for these products is estimated to exceed $12.8 billion. But can consumers rely on the safety of herbal supplements?

Although U.S. regulations require manufacturers of herbal supplements to meet specific standards, there is no guarantee related to these products’ safety. Prescription drugs undergo specialized testing and rigorous scrutiny before meeting with the Federal Drug Administration’s approval for marketing to the American public; however, no such approval is required before herbal supplements are marketed. Some of these products can produce drug-like effects. And if such effects accompany these products, there is the possibility of producing bodily risk as well.

Responsibility falls to consumers to look into both the potential benefits and the risks of taking supplements. It’s important to consult with your provider about the need for, possible benefits of, and specific risks accompanying any supplements. If you have been taking supplements for the prevention or treatment of any condition, be sure to let your provider know the names of those supplements.

The Federal Drug Administration’s oversight of herbal supplements provides no guarantee of safety for consumers who take any of these products. Effects produced by supplements can present the risk of interaction with prescription medications, which can lead to detrimental health-related results. Be sure to discuss the use of supplements with your provider so you become fully aware of potential risks that may accompany their use with your prescribed medications.

If you and your provider decide that an herbal supplement may be appropriate and beneficial, consider the following recommendations by the National Institutes of Health: read and follow the label instructions; recognize that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe;” know that supplements may contain unknown compounds; and always include vitamins and supplements you take on medication lists you review with your provider. If you’re planning to undergo a surgical procedure, discuss with your provider any supplements you’re taking, as some may influence bleeding risk or anesthesia response.

If you’re considering taking herbal supplements, it’s up to you to research both the benefits and risks of a product, discuss such supplements with your provider to ensure compatibility with any prescription medications you may be taking, and carefully compare the various manufacturers of products before purchasing.

Ithaca Primary Care

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