In the United States, most herbal products as marketed as dietary supplements, not drugs. Legally, dietary supplements are considered foods, and do not have be proven safe and effective as do drugs. It is not legal for an herbal remedy to have “therapeutic claim” on its label. Such a claim is a statement that the product will cure an illness. However claims that dietary supplements enhance health are permitted and are often misleading.
Herbal products do not undergo the intense testing that all medications must have to assure purity and that the product contains exactly what is on the label. As a result, many herbal products vary greatly in both ingredients and strengths from one batch to the next. Unfortunately, many people do not read the labels of herbal products and assume that the products have effects that they do not have. Manufacturers of herbal products can change the formulations without changing the name. Purchasers may not be aware that they are taking a changed product when this occurs because the package may look the same.
Many herbal products contain active ingredients that can be helpful. Many important medications have been derived from herbal folk remedies. Unfortunately, many herbal products contain ingredients that can make chronic pain worse, or cause toxicities if used inappropriately. Therefore, it is important to consult your pharmacist or doctor before starting to take an herbal product.
Herbal or all natural products should be considered medication. Some of these products have potent effects on the body. Many cultures have using them as effective remedies or treatments for medical conditions for thousands of years. The same precautions that you use in storing medications out of the reach of children should apply to herbal products.
Even though a product may be marketed as “all-natural” does not mean that it is without side effects. Many of the most potent poisons known are all natural. Herbal products can also interact with many prescription and non-prescription medications.
Patients wanting to take herbal remedies should do so after consulting with their doctors or pharmacists. The herbals should be taken in addition to, not in place of, proven medications. Because of the risk of interaction, always discuss possible interactions between herbal remedies and medications with your doctor to pharmacist professional before taking them together.