Top 5 Myths About Popular Herbal Supplements

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Many individuals often turn to herbal supplements and products for particularly good reasons, which include a need to compensate for an incomplete diet, a desire for a "natural" cure, or attaining hope when medical science offers no more answers. Sometimes though, supplements may provide a lot of assistance.

However, the public is often surprised to learn that some supplements lack many of the safeguards afforded to prescription or over-the-counter drugs, and that even potentially helpful supplements can pose slight risks. Here's how to verify if a certain supplement may help you, and how to avoid those that almost certainly won't help you, and could possibly do more harm.

5 Popular Myths About Herbal Supplements

- Herbal Supplements "Cure Cancer" or Offer "Boundless Energy"

Some product labels may just too good to be true when they say they offer "boundless energy," "quick weight loss," "cancer cure". However, even those that seem more plausible, such as "promotes prostate and urine-flow functions," or "supports the immune system," may seem of dubious nature sometimes.

Some supplement manufacturers can make those claims without showing any clinical proof, provided that the label describes how the product affects the body's "structure or function" rather than how it prevents or treats disease, and as long as the label states that the FDA did not review the claim. Choose supplements based on your research, not on label claims.

- "Does Not Counteract With Other Medications"

Herbal supplements may, at times, interfere with some medications and make side effects of others more likely. St. John's wort, for example, may undermine drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS, asthma, high-cholesterol levels, and hypertension. Garlic, ginger, and ginseng all increase the risk of bleeding from blood-thinning drugs such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin). Some supplements can also pose risks to persons with underlying health problems.

- "The More Herbs, The Better"

It may be quite possible to overdose even on vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements. High doses of calcium, for instance, could impair the absorption of other minerals, cause kidney stones, and possibly increase prostate cancer risk in men.

And just twice the Daily Value of vitamin A (from retinol) can increase the risk of birth defects and liver damage. Recommended allowances and tolerable upper limits for vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements can be found on the Institute of Medicine's Website.

- "Herbs Are Magical "Wonder Cures"

Some herbal manufacturers recommend taking large numbers of herbs for treatment based on unverified information, hearsay, folklore, and tradition. The only criteria that seems to be avoided in these reasoning is scientific evidence.

Some herbal "experts" are so indiscriminate that they seem to recommend everything for anything. Even some poisonous and dangerous herbs are sometimes touted as remedies, based on some outdated reports or unverified facts. Particularly worrisome is the myth that there is something almost magical about herbal drugs that prevents them, in their natural state, from harming some individuals.

- "Herbs Offer Good Nutritional Value"

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 included herbal products in its definition of "dietary supplements," even though some herbs have little or no nutritional value.

Herbal or other botanical ingredients include processed or unprocessed plant parts (bark, leaves, flowers, fruits, and stems) as well as extracts and essential oils. They are packaged as teas, powders, tablets, capsules, and elixirs, and may be marketed as single substances or combined with other herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, or synthetic ingredients. Some supplements containing multiple herbal ingredients may produce adverse effects that are hard to ascertain and predict. - Prime Herbal

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