Saturday, November 18, 2006

Are Herbs and Herbal Supplements Safe?

(Disclaimer: Consult your doctor about the safety of any herbs you plan to take. This article is for information purposes only and should not be substituted for the advice of a qualified medical practitioner, preferably one who is trained in herbal medicine.)

One of the most asked questions concerning herbs is "Are they safe?" Many of the herbs that you would find on your grocery store shelf in the tea and coffee section are proven to be relatively safe in the one serving tea bags, are subject to FDA approval, and generally very effective. For example, you can find echinacea tea in just about every grocery store, yet is highly effective for easing the symptoms of the common cold and the flu, and can shorten the duration of the illness. It can also provide a healthy boost for your immune system. However, when it comes to some of the more exotic herbs, or when choosing herbs from an herbal store, your choices should be well backed by knowlege of the herbs you purchase. Don't buy something that could affect your health just because everyone else is...remember the Fen-Phen fad?

There are some products on the market that contain ephedra, which for some people has cause heart problems, but for others can make breathing easier. Again, talking to your doctor would help understand your own body and to determine which types of herbs you should avoid. However, herbs such as chamomile amd green tea have relatively few (if any) side effects other than the wakeful effects of the caffeine in green tea. According to the FDA, if you find it on the shelf, it should be considered as safe as taking an aspirin. Some herbs even have fewer side effects than their pharmaceutical relatives, such as white willow bark - it has similar properties to aspirin, but without the stomach troubles!

Special care should be taken making herbal purchases online. While herbal and alternative medications in the United States are regulated by the FDA and therefore subject to the same safety standards as other over-the-counter medications, herbs sold on the internet may not be marketed by American companies, and safety standards could vary drastically in other countries. Herbs can be a great health benefit if used with care and knowlege. However, when determining the safety of dieting supplements, it should be noted that a healthy diet and plenty of fresh air and excercise can provide the body with the desired results of weight loss, as well as having other health benefits that are not easily replaced with a supplement, herbs, or vitamins pills. Knowing your own body is extremely important, for example if you have a pre-existing heart condition, you may want to avoid certain stimulating herbs. There is no substitution for education, and no supplement that can take the place of a healthy diet.
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