Herbal Supplement Guide: Everything You Need to Know Before You Buy SupplementsDr. Surya Bhagwati
Whether you are healthy and trying to get fit, trying to lose weight, recover from an illness, protect yourself from infection, or treat a particular disease, herbs have an important role to play. They occupy the central position in herbal medicine, with every Ayurvedic treatment derived from herbal extracts. In the last decade, these Ayurvedic medications have become increasingly popular because of the demand for natural alternatives to pharmaceutical products. This is because there is now a worldwide recognition of the risk of side effects from over reliance on pharmaceutical drugs, as well as a growing appreciation for the wealth of knowledge contained in ancient Ayurveda.
At the same time this has presented an opportunity for unscrupulous marketers and manufacturers to sell low quality products and make unsubstantiated claims. Not only does this tarnish the reputation of Ayurveda, but it also puts consumers at risk. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that many nutritional and herbal supplements cause adverse effects because of their low quality. This makes it important for you to follow some precautions to stay safe and also make the right choice of herbal supplement to meet your requirements.
Dos and Don’ts When Buying Herbal Supplements
Talk to an Ayurvedic Physician
When it comes to the treatment of any disease with a drug, we are always told to first check with a doctor. This also applies to herbal medicine or herbal supplements. After all, herbal supplements may be natural, but they have powerful medicinal value and can work in the same way as many drugs. They pose a much lower risk of side effects, but due to their potency they can pose a problem if you choose the wrong herbs and don’t take the right dosage. More concerning is the risk of interactions if you suffer from a preexisting condition and are already taking medications for it. This is why you should speak to an Ayurvedic physician who can guide you with your choice if you are unsure.
Always Read the Labels
Labels are meant to give you an accurate picture of what’s contained in the product. However, they are designed to attract your attention and sometimes to distract you from the truth. If a product doesn’t contain information on its ingredients, you simply shouldn’t trust it. Ignore the catchy claims and text on the front of these products, instead looking through the supplement ingredients chart. This will allow you to find out which herbs are actually in the supplement and in what proportions. If you find the information to be inadequate, but still want to use it, you should also consider contacting the manufacturer.
Don’t Fall for the Claims
Be wary of brands and products that claim to cure conditions like cancer and AIDs. Although Ayurvedic herbs can be extremely valuable in the prevention and treatment of various conditions, including some forms of cancer, there are no miracle cures for these diseases. Similarly, you should be cautious of herbal supplements that claim to burn fat or boost metabolism. While some herbs like amla and guggulu can make it easier to lose weight, many herbal supplements also contain added ingredients like caffeine and bitter orange. These ingredients are known to increase the risk of heart palpitations and other problems.
When it comes to natural products, including herbal supplements, we often think that more is better. This isn’t the case when it comes to supplements as they are mostly dose dependent. Even nutritional supplements like vitamin C can cause problems when you take too much. In high doses, it can cause diarrhea, headaches, and nausea, as well as more serious long term risks if dosage remains high. Herbal supplements are even more potent, as some herbs are used to lower blood sugar or blood pressure and others are even used for sedative effects.
Don’t Cheap Out
With online shopping it can be tempting to look for the best deals and opt for the cheapest products. While this may be fine for clothing, it’s not the best idea when buying supplements and medicines. Consumer reports suggest that there has been a rise in spurious and fake supplements, including low quality products from unknown brands. Some brands keep their prices low by using filler ingredients, while the main active ingredient is in such a low dose that it offers no benefits. Others may also be contaminated. This is why it’s important to spend more and opt for herbal supplements from trusted brands with FDA, ISO, and GMP certification.
Check with HerbList
If ever you are unsure about the value or safety of any herb that you see listed on a label, get instant help with the HerbList app. The app was created by the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, offering information on a wide range of popular herbs. It’s available for free on the Google app store and Apple store. Just remember that there are limitations to the app as it only relies on scientific studies within a limited data base.
These are some of the simplest tips that you can use to make an informed decision before you buy any herbal supplement. There is more to Ayurveda than herbal medicine, so don’t just look for quick fixes. Delve deeper into the rich knowledge of Ayurveda to better your quality of life and general wellbeing.
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- Geller, Andrew I et al. “Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements.” The New England journal of medicine vol. 373,16 (2015): 1531-40. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa1504267
- GUIDANCE DOCUMENT FOOD SAFETY MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS [PDF]. (2018, January). Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. Retrieved from: https://fssai.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/Guidance_Document_Nutraceutical_25_04_2018.pdf
- Nazish, Iram, and Shahid H Ansari. “Emblica officinalis – Anti-obesity activity.” Journal of complementary & integrative medicine vol. 15,2 /j/jcim.2018.15.issue-2/jcim-2016-0051/jcim-2016-0051.xml. 5 Dec. 2017, doi:10.1515/jcim-2016-0051
- Mithila, M V, and Farhath Khanum. “The appetite regulatory effect of guggulsterones in rats: a repertoire of plasma hormones and neurotransmitters.” Journal of dietary supplements vol. 11,3 (2014): 262-71. doi:10.3109/19390211.2014.937045
- NIH launches HerbList, a mobile app on herbal products. (2018, June 12). Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-launches-herblist-mobile-app-herbal-products