Herbal Dietary Supplements in a Nutshell

Before discussing anything about herbal dietary products, let us take you back in time somewhere in late 1800s.This is when the medicinal use of drugs first began. Aspirin was introduced into medical practice in 1898 followed by morphine and barbiturates in 1900 and 1903 respectively. Seeing the incredible response for these drugs, acquisitive manufacturers invested whole heartedly in this sector and year after year came up with new synthetic drugs for various diseases and disorders. So, the market flooded with generic drugs of numerous brands. But with the advent of modern medicines, issues such as drug resistance, grave side effects and adverse drug reactions became more and more prevalent. This made people turn towards natural products and thus the renaissance of naturopathy took place. Many health conscious people go for herbal dietary supplements these days for promoting health in a safer way.

What are dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements are compounds added to the diet such as vitamins, minerals, essential fats and herbs etc. that improve heath. These supplements are not intended to replace food but may help to make up for the nutrients that your diet falls short off. These may be natural dietary supplements which derived from plants or simple dietary products such as vitamin pills. Herbal supplements are touted for many health benefits with least side effects. These are enriched with various types of herbs which have been traditionally used for their medicinal value. However some of the benefits promised by the manufacturers are not scientifically proven. So, as a vigilant consumer, you need to assess the dietary products carefully and choose the suitable product only after weighing its possible risks.

Following is a list of common herbs used in most of the natural dietary supplements that would help you distinguish the real benefits from false claims:




Evening primrose oil
(Oenothera biennis)

Treat eczema: Yes
• Treat rheumatoid arthritis: 

Reduce breast pain: Yes
• Treat osteoporosis: No

Tolerated by most people; stomach upset and headache may occur.

Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia

Reduce duration of colds:No
• Boost immune system:
• Heal wounds:

GI symptoms including nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting
• Allergic reactions (especially those allergic to the daisy/aster family).

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Reduce the risk of heart disease:Yes
•Lower high blood cholesterol:
•Lower high blood pressure:
• Prevent cancer:
• Treat athlete’s foot:

Safe for most individuals.
• Increase in bleeding.
• Breath or skin odor.
• Possible nausea, heartburn, or diarrhea at high doses.
• Topical garlic can cause skin irritation, blistering and burns.
• Asthma and other allergic, reactions are possible.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Prevent motion sickness: Inconclusive
• Reduce morning sickness: 
• Reduce nausea and vomiting :
• Used as digestive aid: 
• Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, join, and muscle pain: 

Well tolerated when used in small doses. High doses may cause abdominal discomfort, heartburn, diarrhea (most often may cause abdominal associated with powdered ginger.

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Treat depression: Inconclusive
• Improve premenstrual syndrome:
• Treat obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): 
• Treat seasonal affective disorder(SAD):
• Used for wounds (inflammation), muscle aches, first-degree burns:

Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, diarrhea, fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, and headache.
• Photosensitivity.
• Hypomania in depressed patients.

Ginseng (Panax ginseng)

Improve cognitive function: Yes
• Enhance athletic performance: 
• Improve mood: 
• Lower blood glucose: 

Side effects rare, especially when used short term in recommended doses.
• Headaches, gastrointestinal distress.
• Menstrual abnormalities, breast tenderness.
• Insomnia.

Ginkgo biloba(Ginkgo biloba)

Improve age-related impairment of memory and dementia: Inconclusive
• Improve visual field in glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy:
• Lowering blood pressure and

hypertension: No

Mild gastrointestinal (GI) upset, headache, dizziness, palpitations, constipation, and allergic skin reactions.
• Spontaneous bleeding.

Turmeric ( Curcuma longa)

Anti inflammatory: Yes

Anti cancerous: Inconclusive

Cures cough and cold: No

Excessive consumption of turmeric may cause stomach pains

May be irritant to the skin

Green tea extract(Camellia sinensis)

Reduces risk for cancer: Inconclusive
• Reduces risk for heart disease:
• Controls blood pressure:

Moderate intake of green tea extract is safe for most individuals.
• Nausea if consumed on an empty stomach.

Are Herbal Supplements safe?

Like all other synthetic medicines, herbal supplement products also have active ingredients which provide them the medicinal properties. So, it should not be very surprising to know that these dietary supplements may cause allergic reactions, side effects or harmful drug interactions. Also, the manufacture of these supplements is not standardized or supervised by regulatory authorities like pharmaceutical companies which follow stringent regulations to bring their products in the market. So consumer must use his discretion and even seek medical advice before starting any supplement.

Our ancient medicinal system has mentioned many benefits of herbal products. But there is often a conflict between the scientific evidence and traditional knowledge. Striking a healthy balance between conventional medicines and herbal supplements can help us to achieve ‘Ayurveda’ or complete knowledge for long life.