There has been some buzz in the news regarding herbal supplements lately. According to a number of articles, stores like Target, Walmart, GNC, and Walgreens are selling herbal supplements that contain fillers and additives other than the actual herb being advertised. Without question, this raises concerns about the risks involved taking herbal supplements. The articles go on to mention that these misrepresented supplements pose a health risk to the general public, especially for those allergic to the non-disclosed ingredients and immunocompromised people.
What the articles don’t mention is even if the ingredients are listed correctly, it can still pose a risk to the general public. Unless you are an herbalist or have studied natural medicine, it is unlikely that you will know the true biomechanical effect of herbal supplements when taken alone, or as is more often the case, in conjunction with other supplements and medications.
Most Americans end up taking an herbal supplement because it was suggested by a well-meaning friend, family member, neighbor, or even advertisements on the TV claiming to be the miraculous “cure all” to your health problems. The next thing you know, people are running to Costco or Walmart to buy their “cure” in bulk. After all, if a little bit is good, a lot must be better. It’s natural, it can’t hurt you…
In 2004, the herb ephedra was banned by the FDA, in response to the increased number of health incidents related to use of this product. Ephedra is known as “Ma Huang” in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is used to treat asthma and respiratory conditions, by acting as a bronchodilator for the lungs. However, in most of these health incidents, ephedra was not used for this purpose. Ephedra also acts as a stimulant, and can promote weight loss, and increase energy. It was also used by many athletes as an exercise and strength aid. The health incidents included hospitalizations for heart attack, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, and stroke. These effects occurred not only from taking this herb in excessive amounts, but also because it was not appropriate for their current health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, ephedra is contraindicated with high blood pressure or heart disease. It can also interfere with certain medications.
Herbs truly are medicine and should always be treated as such. It is vital to consult with an herbalist or natural medicine practitioner when considering proper treatment with herbal medicine. Qualified practitioners of natural medicine have access to pharmaceutical-grade herbs and supplements. The companies that sell these pharmaceutical-grade herbs and supplements have high standards of processing, and test all products for contaminants and efficacy, which they readily share with their customers. They are high-quality products without additives, fillers, or artificial ingredients.
If you would like an herbal consultation performed by a licensed acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist, please contact me by phone or email.