About 100 million people take a dietary supplement regularly but few can give sound reasons for taking these supplements. Fewer know what side effects have been associated with their use. Users accept the claim benefits and many believe the product will provide an instant cure. Manufacturers use words that are misleading and suggest the impossible. Further, someone who relies on the promise of an herbal remedy might decide to put off visiting a doctor for a necessary treatment.
In the US, herbal products can only be marketed as food
supplements and only a few of these are registered as drugs with the FDA.
Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Acts of 1994, these products
are allowed but do not have to reveal potential safety problems, side effects,
contraindications, or special warnings. Many supplements are advertised
as having health benefits but these benefits are not authorized by the
FDA. Manufacturers make claims about the symptoms these herbal supplements
treat but they are unsubstantiated by valid medical research.
The Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels encourages nutrition professionals
to become knowledgeable about all dietary supplements. This becomes an
enormous task because there is an increasing number and variety of dietary
supplements on the market. Another problem is that some nutritionists
may not be aware or interested in these kinds of supplements.
These products are not available in standard dosages since
they are not purified to meet standards by the FDA. A recent study
by the Good Housekeeping Institute showed that one herbal product sold
by various companies came in different strengths. One of these contained
seventeen times as much herbal substance as the others. There are
no set dosages to treat the symptoms these supplements aim to cure.
The label claim may also be inaccurate due to insufficient testing meaning
that the amount in the pill differs from the amount stated on the bottle.
Herbal products contain ingredients grown under a variety of conditions,
and alkaloids and metabolites of herbal ingredients can vary dramatically
from batch to batch. Manufacturers are not required to standardize
product contents. The safety of herbal supplements becomes important
because the consumer can not be certain of the amount or purity of the
herb they are ingesting.
1) To look up supplements for hazardous effects: http://www.herbmed.org
2) U.S. Food and Drug Administration for position on herbal supplements: http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov
3) Mayo Clinic to look up individual supplements and their effects: http://www.mayohealth.org
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