Herbal supplements are a type of dietary supplement that contain herbs, either singly or in mixtures. An herb (also called a botanical) is a plant or plant part used for its scent, flavor, and/or therapeutic properties.
Many herbs have a long history of use and of claimed health benefits. However, some herbs have caused health problems for users. This fact sheet contains points you should consider for your safety if you use, or are thinking about using, herbs for health purposes. It does not discuss whether herbs work for specific diseases and conditions.
supplements were defined in a law passed by Congress in
1994. A dietary supplement must meet all of the following
is a product (other than tobacco) intended to
supplement the diet, which contains one or more of the
following: vitamins; minerals; herbs or other
botanicals; amino acids; or any combination of the
is intended to be taken in tablet, capsule, powder,
softgel, gelcap, or liquid form.
is not represented for use as a conventional food or
as a sole item of a meal or the diet.
is labeled as being a dietary supplement.
important to know that just because an herbal
supplement is labeled "natural" does not
mean it is safe or without any harmful effects. For
example, the herbs kava and comfrey have been linked
to serious liver damage.
supplements can act in the same way as drugs.
Therefore, they can cause medical problems if not used
correctly or if taken in large amounts. In some cases,
people have experienced negative effects even though
they followed the instructions on a supplement label.
who are pregnant or nursing should be especially
cautious about using herbal supplements, since these
products can act like drugs. This caution also applies
to treating children with herbal supplements.
is important to consult your health care provider
before using an herbal supplement, especially if you
are taking any medications (whether prescription or
over-the-counter). Some herbal supplements are known
to interact with medications in ways that cause health
problems. Even if your provider does not know about a
particular supplement, he can access the latest
medical guidance on its uses, risks, and interactions.
you use herbal supplements, it is best to do so under
the guidance of a medical professional who has been
properly trained in herbal medicine. This is
especially important for herbs that are part of an
alternative medical system (see the box below), such
as the traditional medicines of China, Japan, or
the United States, herbal and other dietary
supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) as foods. This means that they do
not have to meet the same standards as drugs and
over-the-counter medications for proof of safety,
effectiveness, and what the FDA calls Good
active ingredient(s) in many herbs and herbal
supplements are not known. There may be dozens, even
hundreds, of such compounds in an herbal supplement.
Scientists are currently working to identify these
ingredients and analyze products, using sophisticated
technology. Identifying the active ingredients in
herbs and understanding how herbs affect the body are
important research areas for the National Center for
Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
analyses of herbal supplements have found differences
between what's listed on the label and what's in the
bottle. This means that you may be taking less--or
more--of the supplement than what the label indicates.
Also, the word "standardized" on a product
label is no guarantee of higher product quality, since
in the United States there is no legal definition of
"standardized" (or "certified" or
"verified") for supplements.
herbal supplements have been found to be contaminated
with metals, unlabeled prescription drugs,
microorganisms, or other substances.
has been an increase in the number of Web sites that
sell and promote herbal supplements on the Internet.
The Federal Government has taken legal action against
a number of company sites because they have been shown
to contain incorrect statements and to be deceptive to
consumers. It is important to know how to evaluate the
claims that are made for supplements.
Herbs for runners?
National Center for Complementary and Alternative