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Are herbal supplements healthy?

Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan | August 12, 2005

Part IThe truth about diet supplements

erbal supplements have always been very popular.

After all, who can resist the lure of miracle drugs that promise to take care of your cellulite, diabetes, hair loss, obesity and heart disease problems all in one shot?

Are herbal supplements for you? Let us find out.

imageCommon myths about herbal supplements

If it is herbal, it cannot hurt.

This is not always true. When consumed in high enough amounts for a long enough time, or together with certain other substances, many chemicals including the ones in herbs can be toxic.

Anything 'natural' is always safe.

The term 'natural' is sometimes not well-defined on the labels of herbal products. The ingredients may act negatively with drugs or may be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions.

A product has to be safe when there is no cautionary information on the label.

Herbal supplement manufacturers do not necessarily include warnings about potential adverse effects on the labels of their products.

When to avoid taking herbal supplements

~ You are taking other medication.

Some herbs can cause serious side effects when mixed with other drugs such as aspirin, blood thinners or blood pressure medications. Talk to your doctor before you decide to take herbal supplements.

~ A proven medical treatment is already available for your medical condition

A traditional medication that is tried and tested might be more effective than one that is touted as a miracle cure.

~ You are pregnant or breast-feeding.

As a general rule, don't take any herbal supplements without a prescription while pregnant or lactating.

Some tips while choosing an herbal preparation

. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Some claims you need to be beware of include 'definitely no side effects', 'can cure the disease totally', 'satisfaction guaranteed in 30 days or money back', 'limited availability' and so on. The more the hype, the more caution you need to exercise.

More is not always better.

In fact, some herbs can be harmful when consumed in high amounts, for a long time, or in combination with certain other drugs.

Think twice about chasing the latest supplement in the market.

A few isolated successful studies or cases do not guarantee effectiveness. Be wary of results that depart from science and established medical guidance.

Safety always comes first.

Do not substitute any herbal supplement for a prescription medicine.

Some herbal preparations, especially the ones that contain lead, can be toxic.

Remember that over-the-counter herbal supplements are neither standardised for dose nor regulated for safety.

Consider your individual needs.

An herbal drug that works for someone else might not be the right one for your condition. Read about all the ingredients and their side effects before you choose a supplement.

Single ingredient preparations are better.

In multi-ingredient supplements, it is tough to monitor side effects and interactions between the ingredients.

Stay informed.

If you do plan to take an herbal preparation, make sure you know as much as you can about it.

Part IThe truth about diet supplements


Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan has an MBBS from KEM Hospital, Mumbai, with a Masters in Nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin.

Share your comments

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Read what others have to say:

Number of User Comments: 3

Sub: Herbal Remedies.

I just wanted to add: ~ Herbal remedies should be taken only after consulting with a Alternative care practioner, such as a Vaidya or a ...

Posted by Amit

Sub: Commnets

Respected Dr, I appreciate your valuable article on herbal supplements and also diet supplements.The article attracted me by the way you have pinpointed the common ...

Posted by Vd Sudeep Chitnis

Sub: Are Herbal medicines healthy

Keep on sending such important information about myths and the actual facts.

Posted by kirankumthekar


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