Natural Supplements or dietary supplements have been around for thousands of years. Because of its growing popularity, more than half of adults take supplements, hoping the pills will help them stay healthy, treat a specific ailment, enable them to gain an edge in sports, or enhance their well-being. A recent study conducted by Zion Market Research published in January 2017, reports:
“the… global dietary supplements market valued at USD 132.8 billion in 2016… is expected to reach USD 220.3 billion in 2022.” Zion Market Research
They anticipate this to grow annually by 8.8% between 2017 and 2022. Many of these botanical products which are finished, labeled products, contain plant-derived ingredients.One such example is dong quai or “female ginseng” which is found in many breast enlargement pills. It is rich in phytoestrogens which are known to mimic the effects of estrogen. Herbal medicine is extracted from plants believed to mitigate, prevent, or cure certain illnesses and may be available as tea, powder, tablet, capsule, elixir, or may be injected. Ginseng, for example, refers to eleven different varieties of plant with fleshy roots which are believed to restore and enhance well-being. Ginseng has energy boosting effects and may help stimulate physical and mental activity in people who feel weak and tired.
There is a long list of plants being used for various medicinal purposes. Plants synthesize hundreds of chemical compounds for botanical functions. These phytochemicals with potential or established biological activity have been identified by botanists. However, since every plant contains diverse phytochemicals, using plants as medicine are uncertain and remains unassessed by rigorous scientific research to define potency and safety. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
“botanical drug products, as with all medicines, there are benefits as well as risks. Botanical products may be classified as foods, dietary supplements, drugs, medical devices, or cosmetics, depending on their ‘intended use.” FDA.gov
So let’s take a look at things you need to watch out for when shopping for Natural Supplements.
Check for the FDA approval.
Any product (including natural supplements) intended for food and consumed for their taste, aroma, and nutritive value has to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA assesses whether “the benefits of botanical products outweigh the risks and can be marketed as drugs in the United States.”(3) Also, companies must follow regulatory procedures. Check when the herbal products are marketed under either an over the counter drug monograph or an approved new drug application (NDA). Furthermore, regulations only ensure that these dietary supplements meet good manufacturing standards but doesn’t guarantee they are safe or effective, thus a specific medical claim is not allowed.
Inspect the ingredients.
Before taking any supplement, always check the label. The FDA requires manufacturers to provide the composition of a dietary supplement, including the name of the natural supplement, the name and address of the distributor and/or manufacturer, the complete list of ingredients, serving size, amount, uses, and active ingredient. If you don’t know any of the ingredients you can call the manufacturer, ask a pharmacist, ask a doctor, or compare the ingredients to the Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on purchasing Natural Supplements
Since these natural supplements don’t guarantee it’s safe for anyone to use, you must consult your doctor or a pharmacist before taking any dietary supplement. Medical practitioners rely on research and statistics and, just recently, alternative medicine to cure certain illnesses. Although not all herbs and supplements treat all medical conditions, it is best to talk to your doctor and get medical guidance about uses and risks of natural supplements, especially if you answer “yes” to these questions:
- 1. Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
Medications or natural supplements you take while pregnant has to have proper approval from a doctor. It may be safe for an adult but harmful for the baby. Although herbal medicines are produced from plants, some of these are powerful and work the same way as prescription drugs. Also, avoid taking BOTH herbal and prescription medicine at the same time unless prescribed by a doctor. These should also be used with caution. Chamomile, an herb used as tea to calm an upset stomach or to help with sleeping problems, may cause irritation and allergic reactions when used as cream on skin. Raspberry leaf (taken in tea form) may stimulate the uterus, and cause miscarriage or premature labor.
- 2. Are you about to undergo surgery? Some herbal medicines can decrease the effects of anesthesia or cause high blood pressure and dangerous complications. Inform the surgeon and anesthesiologist days before the surgery about the “natural” supplements you are taking. Some herbal medicines raise the risk of bleeding and known or suspected products include fish oil, dong quai, and ginkgo biloba. It is recommended that you stop taking supplements days before surgery.
Check for advisories regarding the supplement
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the Office of Dietary Supplements are good sources that provide information about dietary supplements on their website. Check FDA’s website also for advisories regarding controversial supplements with banned ingredients. The top three banned supplements identified by the FDA are targeted for sports enhancement, weight loss, and sexual enhancement. Some commonly banned ingredients identified in recalled supplements include:
- sibutramine – This affects chemicals in the brain that affect weight maintenance.
- sildenafil – This can decrease blood flow to the optic nerve of the eye, causing sudden vision loss.
- fluoxetin – This may cause mood or behavior changes, anxiety, panic attacks, trouble sleeping. It may also make you feel impulsive, irritable, agitated, hostile, aggressive, restless, hyperactive (mentally or physically), more depressed, or have thoughts about suicide or hurting yourself.
Information is key when trying to find the right natural supplements.
Do your homework before trying out natural supplements. A lot of organic supplements are out there. Don’t fall for marketing ploys just because someone popular is endorsing it or the product was manufactured by an established brand or that it claims the product contains “organic” and “natural” ingredients.
Melissa is a young and energetic writer, a mom to a sweet little boy, and a fur-mom to two perfect pooches. Before becoming the Associate Content Director for Project Female, she was a journalist specializing in topics related to women in politics and policy affecting women.