Herbal Supplements: Know What You’re Getting!

by Sasha A. Rae on 17 May 2011 4 comments
Photo: Colin Dunn

The natural health market abounds with herbal supplement companies, each of which promises to provide you with the best, healthiest supplements around. This one has all natural, organic ingredients. That one uses only herbs and no other substances ever. This other one says that its supplements have the highest quality ingredients around. It all sounds so good until you realize that you really don’t know exactly where the ingredients for the supplements come from, how effective they are, or which companies produce the highest quality products. (See also: "Organic" and "Local" Doesn't Always Mean "Green" via Currency)

Here are four pointers to help you find out more about what you’re taking.

Step One: Background Research

The best thing to do before picking a brand is research the company that makes it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all supplement manufacturers to include their addresses and phone numbers. Call the company to find out how it certifies its products and whether it follows FDA guidelines for manufacturing dietary supplements. You can also ask where they make their products, since companies with on-site labs have more control over their ingredients.

Step Two: Read the Labels, Then Compare

Certainly, it helps to read the labels for each herbal supplement you want to take. The problem is that similar supplements from different companies usually contain almost the same ingredients, with a few variations. The United States National Library of Medicine provides information on companies, brands, and supplement ingredients in its Dietary Supplements Labels Database. The database also outlines any side effects or consequences of specific herbal supplements.

Step Three: Check Out Product Certifications

No law exists that requires supplement manufacturers to certify their products, but the more well-reputed ones do. Independent organizations, such as NSF International, test various foods, water products, and supplements for contamination and certify the ones that pass. The process is voluntary for companies to use. A product certified by NSF International is guaranteed to be free of contamination and safe to use. ConsumerLab.com, on the other hand, randomly tests products off the shelves and publishes reports on their findings.

Step Four: Get Some Official Recommendations

Lots of health and wellness organizations have a wealth of information about good supplements, or they have a favorite brand that they can recommend. Organizations such as the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians also provide direct feedback on which supplement companies produce the best, highest-quality products. Call the organization directly and ask to speak with a resident doctor. Your local natural medicine clinic or nutritionist will also have the latest information.

Herbal supplements can help boost your health, keep your digestive system in great shape, and overcome lingering illnesses or health problems. It’s just a matter of picking the right brand and the right type of supplement. So get researching and supplementing!

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Meg Favreau's picture

Not really knowing what's in certain supplements has always been a worry of mine. Does anybody have particular brands they would recommend?

Sasha A. Rae's picture

If we're talking over-the-counter buys, I like the ones by Whole Foods. They're pretty well done and although they cost a bit more than other brands, they are all natural. I can definitely tell the difference when I use them.

Sasha A. Rae's picture

If we're talking over-the-counter buys, I like the ones by Whole Foods. They're pretty well done and although they cost a bit more than other brands, they are all natural. I can definitely tell the difference when I use them.

Guest's picture
Guest

American Association of Naturopathic Physicians? Are you freaking insane?!?!

This is the official organization of promulgators of pseudoscience and craziness. You want real advice, ask an MD or DO (aka, real doctors trained in actual science-based medicine)