Supplements and Herbs

Supplements and Herbs

Most supplements and herbs are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.). This is the single most important piece of information you must be aware of when making alternative therapy choices.

The Food and Drug Administration is the federal regulatory body that approves medication for usage by the public. The only medications approved by this agency are pharmaceuticals, medications with unique chemical formulations, patented and having undergone rigorous and expensive processes of testing for function and safety.

F.D.A. approval is a large part of the expense of bringing patented medications to market. Having obtained this approval drug companies can make certain claims that serve to differentiate between medications and allow them to charge higher prices for their products. Because the F.D.A. approval process is tedious and expensive, only pharmaceutical companies with unlimited funds can undergo it.

As an aside, even F.D.A. approval does not guarantee safety. F.D.A. approved medications are often taken off the market in a hurry when they prove dangerous to users. A few recent examples are: Duract- anti-inflammatory medication taken off the market because it caused liver failure, Rezulin- a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes that caused liver toxicity, Seldane- an antihistamine with cardiac and other untoward side-effects.

The F.D.A. does not evaluate the function and safety, or supervise the manufacturing of alternative therapies, herbs and supplements. As these are natural, unpatentable substances, there is no large company who serves to make a great deal of money from the F.D.A.’s approval and the public’s wide usage of the products. Therefore, most alternative therapies, herbs, and supplements do not undergo the costly approval process from the FDA. Again, this does not mean that they are not safe or effective. Nonetheless this situation leaves us, the public in a precarious position. Whenever you go to a health food store, you are buying on faith.
The information on the label is vague, contents are somewhat questionable and I am sure you noticed, indications for use are invariably missing. You may never know exactly what is in the pill you’re taking. And that’s a scary thought. We live in a society where the best marketer, the company that spends the most money on advertising, gets their product sold.

So how do you choose which supplement or herb to take?

Who is the product manufacturer? When I started researching alternative treatments for symptoms of hormone imbalance, I learned something few people know. There are very few manufacturers of raw supplements, vitamins and herbs. The enormous variety of brands that fill the shelves of our health food stores, are often the same product packaged by different companies.

Let me explain a little further.

Let’s take Dong Quai- an herbal supplement that presumably improves hot flashes. Dong Quai can be found in stores under as many as twenty different labels. Most Dong Quai is produced by a handful of manufacturing companies that package the raw Dong Quai under different labels. It is impossible to determine who the manufacturer is, and which product is better. Anybody can contract with a manufacturer, then get a packager, put their own label on a supplement, and then sell it to the public. It’s that simple. But it leaves the public in an uncomfortable position. On the other hand, the industry has recognized the need for laboratory tested brands, and a few manufacturers with long standing solid track records have established themselves in the market. Their products are standardized. For the consumer this is an important fact. Standardized, means, that the dosing is the same from batch to batch of supplement. For instance- St. John’s wort made by Pharmanex has the same amount of active ingredients in every bottle of St. John’s wort bought under the Pharmanex label. Since there is no regulatory agency that requires standardization of dosing, the manufacturer decides whether to provide internal testing and quality control for their products.

I advise you to stick with standardized labeled products for your own safety. Some examples of standardized labeled products include: Pharmanex, Nature’s Bounty, Solgar, and Twin Labs.

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