Most busy executives are aware – and enjoy – the benefits of herbal supplements as part of their daily diet. Consider breakfast – your cup of green tea lowers cholesterol, guards against cancer and promote weight loss. That sprinkle of cinnamon on toast improves digestion and supports diabetes prevention. The spoonful of flaxseed on your cereal adds important Omega 3.
Although herbal remedies, sometimes called botanicals, have been used and studied for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, the popularity of herbal use has soared in recent years. In fact, in 2007 a national survey found that over 17 percent of American adults had used dietary supplements other than vitamins and minerals in the past 12 months.
While the benefits of botanicals are many, it’s important to know that not all supplements are the same – nor are they as carefully monitored as medications prescribed or sold over the counter. In the USA, herbal supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but aren’t considered either a food or a drug – they are considered a dietary supplement. Dietary supplements were defined in a law passed by Congress in 1994 called the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). Herbal supplements are one type of dietary supplement and are defined as a plant or plant part (such as leaves, flowers, or seeds) used for its flavor, scent, and/or therapeutic properties. “Botanical” is often used as a synonym for “herb”, and an herbal supplement may contain a single herb or mixtures of herbs.
With this definition, herbal supplement manufacturers don’t have to get approval from the FDA before putting their products on the market. Plus, a company can claim that their product addresses a nutrient deficiency, supports health or is linked to body functions if they have supporting research, and if they include a disclaimer that the FDA hasn’t evaluated the claim. Also, a manufacturer’s use of the term “standardized”, “verified” or “certified” does not necessarily guarantee product quality or consistency.
The good news is that companies must follow good manufacturing practices (GMPs) to ensure the supplements are processed consistently and meet quality standards. Yet many supplements don’t contain the herbs listed on the product, and although a product may be labeled as “natural”, it’s not necessarily safe. The effects of a particular herb may actually be dangerous to a person’s health, interact negatively with other medications or make a chronic health condition worse.
Also consider the possibility that what’s on the label might not be in the bottle. Recent analysis of ingredients have found the wrong plant species, improperly calculated active ingredients, and even contamination by other herbs, pesticides, or metals.