Does “Natural” Always Mean “Safe”?
Have you noticed how vitamins and herbal supplements take up many shelves at your local pharmacy? Studies show that more than half of Americans take some sort of dietary supplement, including products with unusual names like ginkgo biloba and valerian.
You wouldn’t be the first person to wonder what these herbal products are and if they are safe or effective. You may also wonder who you can ask about them.
Herbal or “natural” products are extracts of plants or food (the leaves, stems, bark, or flowers) that claim to have medicinal value and benefit human health. However, it is important to remember that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.” Because herbal supplements and vitamins are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration, there is no guarantee about their safety or effectiveness.
These products can act just like prescription medicines, however, in that they can cause side effects, interfere with your other medications, or even worsen your health. In fact, some herbal products have been known to cause serious illnesses, allergies, high blood pressure, or even organ damage. Therefore, it is vital that you tell both your doctor and your pharmacist if you are taking any of these products.
Because pharmacists have extensive education and training in medication use, we can be your best resource for information about these products and how much (if any) is appropriate for your medical situation.
Things to remember about taking alternative products:
- If you are taking a prescription medication, do not take an herbal remedy or dietary supplement for the same condition without telling your doctor.
- Only take the recommended amount listed on the label.
- Only choose products with labels that provide:
- Dosing advice
- A lot number or expiration date (avoid products that are over 1 year old)
- Manufacturer's name, address, and telephone number.