Something You All Should Know About Herbal Health Supplements

It was the time when people used to rely on organic sources of food and easily cover up all the nutrients that are necessary for the body, but now the tables are turned. People have started preferring herbal dietary supplements over natural food, and somehow it is better for the coming generations. The fact behind the appreciation of this selection is because in the coming years people will be so busy that they can’t afford enough time to have proper meal, and then these supplements will cover the nutritional needs of the body. Many people take dietary supplements to feel good and health care. With so many dietary supplements available and so many messages about their health benefits, how does a consumer know what is safe and effective?

Herbal health supplements are a type of dietary supplement. An herb is a plant or plant part (such as leaves, flowers or seeds) used for its flavor, aroma and its therapeutic properties. The term “botanical” is often used synonymously with “grass”. An herbal supplement may contain a single herb or a mixture thereof. This fact sheet provides an overview of dietary supplements discusses safety considerations and suggests sources for additional information.

Here “Natural” doesn’t mean natural

It is a big misconception spreading among people that all the vitamins and herbs labeled as “natural” are really natural and safe. Do not think that all supplements and herbal products are safer than medicines just because they occur in nature or come from plants. Although supplements and herbal products are advertised as “natural”, they are not necessarily natural to the human body. Some supplements and herbal products may contain other ingredients that may even make you sick.

Sometimes the supplements contain drugs that are not described on the label, such as steroids or estrogen. Some of these products may even contain toxic (poisonous) such as arsenic, mercury, lead and pesticides. However, some herbal supplements stores of vitamins, minerals and dietary supplements follow the quality standards of the US Pharmacopoeia Convention. These supplement manufacturers volunteered to have their make tests supplements for quality and purity by an outside company before they are sold. These supplements often show credentials additional quality on their labels, such as “USP Verified” (verified by USP) or “Approved Quality”. Choose your supplements carefully and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.

How should I take supplements and herbal products safely?

Read the instructions on the supplement label to find out how much to take and how often. If you have questions about how much to take, call your doctor or pharmacist. Follow these tips to ensure that you are taking the correct amount:

  • If you take a prescription medication, ask your doctor if it is okay also take supplements and herbal products.

  • Take only the amount recommended on the label. Do not assume that the more supplements or herbal products take work better or faster. Taking more than the recommended amount can be dangerous.

Can supplements and herbal health products cause other problems?

Yes. The vitamins and herbs can have other unwanted effects. For example:

  • Glucosamine products may contain sodium. If you have a low sodium diet, talk to your doctor before taking glucosamine.

  • Kava can increase the effects of alcohol. Do not drink alcohol if you take kava products.

  • Black cohosh contains salicylates phytoestrogen, so avoid it if you are sensitive to aspirin or other salicylates.

You should not take more than the recommended dose of any supplement or herbal health product dosage. The problems that these products can cause are more likely to occur if you take too much or for too long

How should I store supplements and herbal products safely?

Store all supplements up high and out of reach and sight of young children. Keep these products in a cool, dry place prevent lose their effectiveness before their expiration date. Do not store cabinets in bathrooms or toilets that are often hot and humid.

Is it safe to take herbal products if I have health problems?

Supplements and herbal products may not be safe if you have certain health problems. Older adults may have an increased risk of problems from these products. Talk to your doctor before taking herbal products if you have any of the following health problems:

  • Problems with blood clotting

  • Cancer

  • Diabetes

  • Enlarged prostate gland

  • Epilepsy

  • Glaucoma

  • Heart disease

  • High Blood Pressure

  • Immune system problems

  • PD

  • Psychiatric problems

  • Liver problems

  • Apoplexy

  • Thyroid problems

If you are having surgery, make sure you tell your doctor if you use herbal products. Herbal products can cause problems with surgery, including bleeding and problems with anesthesia. Stop using herbal health supplements at least 2 weeks before surgery or sooner if your doctor recommends it.

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.