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What You Should Know About the Hope and the Hype of Herbal Supplements


Once upon a time, you took a multivitamin and considered yourself virtuous. Oh how times have changed. Now millions of us take herbal supplements, minerals and vitamins ranging from pills claiming to burn fat to capsules claiming to make us smarter. But just how safe are all those supplements?

One in five adults swallowed down at least one natural remedy in the past year, reported U.S. News on June 22 (see original article). However, what they may not know could hurt them, particularly if they take them in place of or as additions to prescription pills.


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In contrast to traditional over the counter and prescription medications, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements and herbal remedies. Manufacturers of such products are exempt under the the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. What that means: As Dr. Mehmet Oz knows all too well, fly-by-night companies can slap on a label proclaiming "As Seen On the Dr. Oz Show for Weight Loss Miracle" and market their supplements online. In reality, Dr. Oz has become so infuriated by such dangerous marketing tactics abusing his name that he's taken to regularly using time on his show to proclaiming that he does not endorse any such brands. However, that doesn't stop these marketers.

What You Should Know

So what's safe? Turns out Mom was right: That Fred Flintstone multivitamin really can do a body good. However, the herbal supplements that you see online or in your health food store may not be the greatest thing since white bread (the kind with fiber added, of course). If you have allergies or take prescription medications, talk to your doctor before you take anything. In addition, be aware of these side effects to common supplements:

  • Echinacea may result in dizziness, headaches, tummy trouble and fatigue.
  • Garlic could cause stinky breath, body odor and nausea.
  • Ginkgo biloba may result in a headache and heart palpitations.
  • St. John's Wort could cause extreme sensitivity to the sun and confusion.

Before You Prescribe For Yourself

So let's say that you have a condition such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. Because they're so common in our nation, supplement manufacturers have produced products claiming to cure or reduce the symptoms of both. However, if you take prescription drugs and then add on a supplement, side effects could range from blood sugar spikes for those with diabetes to blood pressure drops for those with hypertension. The result, in both cases: Extreme dizziness and fatigue. Other conditions that should be addressed with your doctor before you swallow a supplement: Cancer, thyroid disease, glaucoma, heart disease, history of stroke, autoimmune diseases, liver or kidney disease and epilepsy.

In summary, when it comes to supplements: Buyer beware before you swallow that marketing hype.