What is an Herbal Supplement?
An herbal supplement is a dietary supplement intended to supplement the human diet and promote good health. An herbal supplement is made from herbs, plants, or botanicals that have shown to be beneficial for human health. They involve using the “active” constituents of a botanical, and a “therapeutic” application of a plant or its parts. Herbal supplements can not claim to treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent disease due to federal regulation laws, not because they do not work.
A Brief History
Plant life has always been essential to the survival of humans and other species, serving as both food and medicine. The art and science of using plants therapeutically is considered one of the oldest forms of healing, with a recorded history dating back more than 5,000 years.
- Chinese Traditional Medicine and India’s Ayurvedic tradition both involve balancing the properties of various herbs in blends or multiple-ingredient formulas for their synergistic effects.
- In 500 BC, Hippocrates advocated maintaining our natural life force through the use of herbs, fresh air, adequate rest, proper nutrition, and a balanced diet.
- The FDA and the FTC recognize the beneficial “traditional use” of herbs and give value to evidence of “traditional use” as substantiation of efficacy of dietary supplements.
Why Use Herbal Supplements?
- The therapeutic applications of herbs have remained consistent for thousands of years, offering substantiation for their efficacy, often called “traditional use” evidence. Why would people use particular herbs for so many thousands of years if they did not work?
- Active plant constituents are the basis for many pharmaceutical drugs. Some examples are: aspirin is derived from white willow bark, digitalis is derived from foxglove, and morphine derived from immature poppy seed pods.
- When herbs are used in their complete form, there tends to be fewer, if any, side-effects as opposed to pharmaceutical drugs using just the single component from the plant. For example, aspirin (salicylic acid) is only one component of white willow bark and has many side-effects like destroying joints and stomach/intestinal lining. When using white willow bark, these effects are almost never seen due to the other constituents in the bark.
- When used properly and if taken according to label directions, herbal preparations are generally free of harmful side effects and are not toxic unless otherwise indicated. This is where having a practitioner knowledgeable in the effects and usages of herbal supplements becomes important. Salespeople in health food stores and natural grocery stores are just that, salespeople, and are very rarely trained in Botanical Medicine.
- Herbs are natural substances that tend to work in harmony with the normal healthy function of our systems.
- Herbal supplements can aid in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and are a gentle way to support normal health and promote longevity.
- In accordance with Congressional Findings (Section 2 of DSHEA): “…the importance of nutrition and the benefits of dietary supplements to health promotion and disease prevention have been documented increasingly in scientific studies.”
- Herbal preparations are far more affordable than many Western medical approaches. Using herbal remedies as a first line of defense may head off costly hospital visits and/or life-debilitating health conditions.
Herbal Use and Acceptance
More people are taking their healthcare into their own hands and using botanical medicines to treat various conditions like: allergies, bacterial/viral/fungal infections, decreased immune function, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, low energy, and obesity. Consumer surveys estimate that 50-60% of the adult U.S. population use herbal products. According to the World Health Organization, more than 75% of the global population still relies on traditional healing methods, including Herbal Medicines. Botanical medicine is one of the most accepted and popular therapies worldwide for promoting wellness, optimal health, and longevity in children, adults, and the elderly.
Botanical Medicine Regulation and Safety
Many people believe that herbal supplements are “not regulated” or that “there are no laws governing supplements.” However, in addition to state laws and regulations, herbal supplements are regulated by two federal agencies.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees manufacturing and labeling compliance and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates advertising and marketing of herbal and dietary supplements. These agencies have joint jurisdiction over supplements, and each has the power to enforce compliance.
The FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) establish a set of guidelines for manufacturers to maintain sanitary conditions and properly identify products that are free of adulteration and contamination and are fit for human consumption. Maintaining cGMP status requires regular facility wide inspections by independent auditors.
The FDA classifies herbal supplements as foods and recognizes their value as supplements to the diet in supporting normal structure and function of organs, glands, and body systems, as well as overall good health.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 requires the manufacturer to ensure that a dietary supplement is safe prior to bringing it to the marketplace. Under DSHEA, manufacturers must assure that the product label information and claims are truthful, accurate, and not misleading.