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Consult Doctor Before Popping Herbal Supplement Pills

Armen Hareyan's picture

Dietary Herbal Supplements

Harmful contaminants may be hiding in your bottle of echinacea or chamomile, say experts at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston.

"The number one cause of toxic reaction from herbal or dietary supplements is not from the herb itself, but from possible contaminants, like heavy metals, that may be in the supplement," says Dr. Grace Kuo, a clinical pharmacist and assistant professor of family and community medicine at BCM.

Because the manufacturing of herbal and dietary supplements is not regulated, the ingredients listed on the label may not list everything that is in the pill. This makes mixing herbal supplements with prescription medications harmful.

"The best thing a person can do before taking an herbal remedy or supplement is to consult a physician or a pharmacist, because some health conditions do not respond well to herbal remedies," Kuo says. "For example, patients with rheumatoid arthritis should not take supplements that stimulate the immune system."

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Kuo suggests keeping the following in mind when purchasing dietary supplements.

Do not use a supplement for an extended period of time. Treating symptoms with an herbal remedy can mask the severity of an illness and delay necessary treatment.
Herbal supplements can only claim to relieve associated symptoms, not cure an illness.
Keep your physician aware of the herbal supplements you are taking. They may react adversely when used with prescription medications, vitamins, minerals or other herbal supplements.

According to a study conducted by the Southern Primary-care Urban Research Network at BCM, common health problems for which patients take herbal supplements are stomach pain, colds, flu or sinus symptoms. Herbs people use varied by different ethnic groups; the most common herb among non-Hispanic white, Hispanic white and African Americans are echinacea, chamomile and garlic, respectively.

The study also showed that four times as many respondents used their family as their main source of information on herbal supplements instead of asking their physician for information.

"For people who take herbal supplements as a preventive measure to maintain their health, remember that herbal supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet and regular exercise," Kuo says.