Over the past two decades, the use of herbs in the United States has greatly increased as a result of more people shifting to simpler, all-natural methods to manage, prevent and treat various health conditions. Herbs can be used for therapeutic and medicinal purposes, but they must be used correctly. Many people are under the impression that because herbs are natural, they are safe. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true.
Let’s review the reasons why we need to exercise caution when using herbs, preferably under the care of a medical professional.
Misleading Information Online
When taking an herbal supplement, you can easily educate yourself online. If you notice, much of the information is positive and written by herb enthusiasts, so it can add to the image that herbs are always safe. You need to be especially aware of exaggerated accounts of herbal supplements that are used for marketing purposes. There are companies out there that are merely interested in profits and sales, so they will write anything to make their product look better.
There are also many websites that have no marketing motive, but they still write about herbs positively and recommend them for treating certain conditions, even if they have no authority to make the claims. They may be sharing their own experience or belief, but this doesn’t mean that taking the herb will have the same outcome for you.
Why is there so much misleading information online?
The biggest reason is because there is so little evidence supporting Medicinal Uses of herbs. Scientific studies show that conventional medications are best for treating health conditions, and the effects of herbs are not supported. This contradicts with what many people believe, and science hasn’t exactly ruled out the fact that herbs can’t help. With their complex chemical structures and clear benefits in relaxing the mind and body with their fruitful aromas, there may be certain ingredients in herbs that can be used medically; we just haven’t been able to prove this yet.
It’s important to be aware that when reading information online, you determine where the information is coming from (an individual, a company or a respected organization), if they have any motive for posting positive testimonials and if their claims are well supported. Just by being aware that not everything you read about herbs is accurate or factual, you can make better decisions for your health and your wellbeing.
Lack of Quality Control
Another reason why we must be careful about the safety of herbs is that this industry is largely unregulated. With conventional medications, decades are spent researching the drug, experimenting with various chemicals and studying their effects. These drugs are heavily regulated by the FDA, and all information regarding them must be relayed to the general public. If you’ve ever taken a prescription, you know the lengthy packet that is included with the medication, explaining in detail all of the side effects, drug interactions and complications.
This same information is not included with herbal products, and in fact, you won’t see much information besides a label printed on the bottle. The FDA does not regulate this industry, leaving companies to have free reign over how they want to market their products. While there are many reputable, honest companies, there are others that don’t hold the same standards. Without regulations to follow, herbal supplements can be mislabeled, making these products confusing, ineffective or risky.
Also, there is a big difference between the quality and purity in herbal supplements, and with no clear distinctions, consumers may pay more for an inferior product. You may have a hard time making the distinction when looking at the bottle, but just imagine trying to determine the quality of what’s tucked inside. Facilities where herbs are grown and used for commercial purposes are not regulated either, so there are varying measures of how the herbs are grown, dried and stored.
Herbs are very sensitive, and if they are not handled correctly, the purity and integrity of the product is jeopardized. The way the herbs are handled is integral to how pure, potent and effective the product actually is, so look for companies that are happy to walk you through their method for growing and storing herbs.
Shortage of Research
A final barrier in determining herbal safety is that there is a shortage of research on many of these natural ingredients. While the United States may be familiar with the popular Western herbs, there are plants from countries like Asia, Africa and South America that we know little about. Some of these herbs are coming into the U.S. from these countries, but we have yet to research the effects, safety, efficacy and purity of the plants.
Additionally, many herbs, including Western-based ones, have yet to be tested in various contexts. A healthy person with no allergies may react fine to a particular herb, but if they have a chronic health condition or are pregnant, there may be serious side effects. When it comes to the special populations, such as children, elders and pregnant women, it’s especially important that herbs are only taken under the supervision of a doctor.
We must also recognize that many people who opt for herbal drugs take other types of medications, and we know little about how herbs interact with these chemically-based drugs. While the FDA studies how various drugs interact with each other, we don’t have the same information for herbs and traditional medication.
Our intention is not to scare you away from using herbs but to educate you on making the best decisions. Until there is more control over this industry, it’s up to people to do the research, talk to their doctor and select a reputable company to purchase herbal products from. When we know that we can’t take everything we read online for granted, we can be more cautious about the companies we trust with our sales and our health.
How Do I Ensure Quality?
If you’re ready to try a few herbs, you may be wondering how you can go about the process safely. Your first step is to talk to your doctor. It’s important that you get the green light on taking any herbs, since your doctor should be aware of any medications you are on as well as any factors that may affect your ability to take herbs, such as a chronic illness or allergy. When you get the doctor’s approval, you can begin your search.
If possible, get a recommendation from your doctor or a friend who has been using herbs. They can refer you to a dependable, reputable company that delivers an ideal product. You can also read online testimonials and reviews, but remember that many of these are doctored up by the company itself for marketing purposes. Still, you can learn a lot about a company and its products just by doing a bit of research online.
While it’s not a guarantee, look for products that offer a lot of information. You’ll find that many lower quality herbs will be sold in bottles with printed labels and won’t have any additional information other than what’s on the label. Reputable companies tend to have details about their company and their process for growing and storing herbs. They know where the herbs are coming from and what the true identity of the product is. Contact information should be printed boldly on the website as well.
Your goal is to find a brand that you like and trust. Once you do, you can count on the company for all of your needs. Before you find “the one,” stick to products that are sold in the stores or recommended to you. Mail orders and online companies should be avoided, at least until you’ve found a trusted company to work with.
If you want the very best herbs, the solution is to grow your own. When you grow an herb garden, you can choose the herbs you want to add to your diet and control their purity and integrity. You never have to second guess what you’re putting into your body, and you can take charge of your health in a whole new way.