The Truth About Herbal Supplements

  • Overseeing Supplements

    Dietary supplements, which often make “miraculous” health claims on their labels, are all too easy to get your hands on. But supplements are considered food, not drugs, according to the Food and Drug Administration, so they’re not as strictly regulated as pharmaceuticals are. "The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that its dietary supplement products are safe before they are marketed. Unlike drug products that must be proven safe and effective for their intended use before marketing, there are no provisions in the law for FDA to ‘approve’ dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer,” the agency explains. Photo Credit: kadavoor
    You're On Your Own
  • You're On Your Own

    Still, nearly 20% of American adults have used natural dietary supplements in the past 12 months, according to the National Institutes of Health. Here's a closer look at some common supplements, the claims made by their proponents and what studies have found about their effectiveness. Photo Credit: kadavoor
    Slimming Teas
  • Slimming Teas

    The claim: Unlike regular green and white teas, which are known to be good sources of antioxidants, teas that are marketed as “weight-loss” or slimming teas contain various herbs to create concoctions that promise to help you burn body fat, improve digestion, eliminate toxins and even promote calmer, more positive peaceful emotions. What critics say: The weight loss experienced as a result of prolonged use of these teas could primarily be caused by dehydration according to the FDA. Ingredients including senna, cascara, buckthorn or rhubarb root have laxative effects and mallow, licorice root and uva ursi are diuretics that rid your body of necessary fluids. At least four deaths have been linked to slimming teas. Photo Credit: prudencebrown121
  • Hoodia

    The claim: Hoodia diet pills have been marketed as miracle weight-loss supplements with no exercise required and no side effects. What critics say: There’s no reliable evidence available to prove that hoodia is actually effective, according to the National Institutes of Heath. What’s more, the quality of hoodia products can vary widely, and some of them might not actually contain any hoodia at all, the agency says. Photo Credit: Seth Mazow
  • Açaí

    The claim: Advertisements plastered all over the Web call the açaí berry a natural weight-loss miracle. The Brazilian berry is a potent source of antioxidants and fiber, but sellers promise that it can help you burn fat faster and boost your metabolism, notes WebMD. What critics say: Acai is just another fruit. To achieve weight loss, your best bet is to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep, WebMD notes. Photo Credit: FoXMuLD3R
    Horny Goat Weed
  • Horny Goat Weed

    The claim: Horny goat weed producers promise that the herbal supplement can promote erectile function, ease fatigue, “restore sexual fire” and treat symptoms of menopause, according to Discovery Health. One label even says the supplement, also known as epimedium, will “conjure up the passionate nature in men to provide you and your mate with a memorable night of romance,” according to the NIH. What critics say: There’s little information available about the safety and side effects from horny goat weed, but in high doses, it’s been known to cause breathing problems, according to the Georgia Department of Community Health. Photo Credit: cote
    St. John’s Wort
  • St. John’s Wort

    The claim: St. John’s wort is a supplement that’s widely used to treat depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. It’s even prescribed for depression in Europe, according to the NIH. What critics say: St. John's wort doesn’t provide much help if any in treating major depression, according to the NIH, but it may be helpful for people with mild forms of depression. St. John's wort may also interact with and reduce the effectiveness of certain pharmaceutical drugs including antidepressants and birth control pills. Photo Credit: pawpaw67
  • Echinacea

    The claim: Echinacea is known as an immune system booster and it’s used to prevent and treat the common cold and flu, according to the American Academy for Family Physicians. What critics say: Studies testing three different kinds of echinacea have found that none of them actually prevented colds nor did they reduce cold symptoms, according to Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The study didn’t look at whether taking echinacea before a cold reduced symptom severity, however. Photo Credit: digital cat ?
  • Cat’s-Claw

    The claim: In South America, cat's-claw has been used for hundreds of years to treat and prevent diseases including viral infections like herpes and HIV as well as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and arthritis, according to the NIH. What critics say: The NIH also says there isn’t enough evidence to tell whether the supplement works for any of these conditions. However, further research is being conducted by the National Institute on Aging regarding cat’s-claw’s effects on the brain, the NIH says. Photo Credit: fuentedelateja
  • Ginkgo

    The claim: Ginkgo is most popular today as a supplement to boost memory and prevent Alzheimer's disease or other kinds of dementia, but it has actually been used in a number of other ways including as treatments for asthma and bronchitis. What critics say: Ginkgo isn’t effective in reducing the incidence of dementia in the elderly, can’t slow a loss of cognitive functioning and or even improve memory, the NIH reports. It’s not even clear whether it’s an effective treatment for respiratory ailments, according to the Mayo Clinic. Photo Credit: FotoosVanRobin
    Black Cohosh
  • Black Cohosh

    The claim: Black cohosh has long been used by Native Americans to treat hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, as well as PMS, acne and osteoporosis, according to the NIH. What critics say: Like many other dietary supplements, there isn’t much reliable scientific evidence that black cohosh is safe and effective in the long term. The NIH also notes that menopause is just a normal part of aging and should not be considered a disease. Photo Credit: Wayne National Forest
    Old World Medicines
  • Old World Medicines

    Some pharmaceutical drugs have been used for so long that consumers assume they must be sold legally. But you might be surprised to find that some of the drugs in your medicine cabinet were never approved by health officials. To learn more about these medicines, read MainStreet's story Forbidden Medicines Still in Use. Photo Credit: perpetualplum
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