Rules governing manufacturing of dietary supplements don't take full effect until 2010. Until then, here's what you should know before you buy. Herbal supplements are rapidly growing in popularity, but are they right for you? That depends on the herb, your current health and your medical history. Herbal supplements have active ingredients that can affect how your body functions, just as over-the-counter and prescription drugs do. Herbal supplements may be particularly risky for certain individuals, and herbal supplement labels are often vague, confusing and of little help when it comes to making a selection. If you're considering herbal supplements or other dietary supplements, educate yourself about any products you intend to use before purchasing them and talk to your doctor about any supplements you're considering taking..
Are herbal supplements safe?
Until recently, government oversight and consumer protection were very limited for dietary supplements. But in 2007 the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency responsible for overseeing the safety of U.S. food and drug products, was given the authority to oversee the manufacture of domestic- and foreign-made dietary supplements, including herbal supplements. The regulations require supplement manufacturers to evaluate the identity, purity, strength and composition of their dietary supplements to ensure that they contain what their labels claim and are free of contaminants. The regulations are being phased in over three years, however, so not all supplements are currently tested. It is also important to note that these regulations don't change the fact that dietary supplements — unlike medications — are not required to obtain FDA approval before going on the market.
What the label tells you You can expect certain information to be included on the labels of all herbal supplements, which should help you understand what's inside the packaging. This information includes:
* The name of the herbal supplement, such as St. John's wort
* The net quantity of contents, for example, 60 capsules
* In certain cases, a disclaimer: "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."
* A Supplement Facts panel, which includes serving size, amount and active ingredient
* Other ingredients, such as herbs and amino acids, for which no daily values have been established
* The name and address of manufacturer, packer or distributor
Manufacturers typically refer to herbal products by their common name and the part of the plant used to make the herbal supplement, such as root, stem or leaf. If you don't understand anything on an herbal supplement's label, ask your doctor or pharmacist for clarification.