Herb and supplement consultation
A consultation with a professional educated in herbs, supplements, and pharmaceuticals will help a patient evaluate the need, safety, and effectiveness of the herbs or supplements they are taking or considering taking.
The internet or a health-food store should not be your only sources of information on herbs and supplements. If you are truly interested in taking herbs or supplements, it is best to consult with a knowledgeable professional.
About herbs and supplements
What’s considered an herb?
Any kind of plant or plant product can be an herb. For example, herbs include leaves, stems, flowers, roots, and seeds. An herb is a plant used for medicinal purposes, and herbal supplements are products made from herbs. Other names for herbal supplements include herbal products, botanical products, or phytomedicines.
Herbal supplements are alternative treatments used to treat diseases or to maintain health. It may be appropriate to use herbs for patients who have conditions where there is no known effective treatment.
Herbal medicines can either be sold raw (dried and ground up), or as extracts, where they’re softened with water or other solvents as found in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The resulting products contain hundreds of different chemicals, including fats, sterols, alkanes, and flavonoids, to name a few.
What is a supplement?
Supplements are substances taken for potential benefits to improve one’s health. Some supplements are taken orally, but others are applied topically (on the skin or mucous membranes). Most people in the U.S. take some sort of vitamin either daily or at least once per week.
Some common supplements include iron, vitamin D, which helps the body absorb nutrients from foods like dairy products, and vitamin B12, which is found mostly in fish, meat, and dairy foods. If one chooses not to eat such foods, a supplement should be considered. Fish oil can promote heart health, and mineral supplements such as calcium supports bones by helping them grow stronger. Antioxidant vitamins and supplements protect cells from free radical damage and promote improved health.
Other potential supplements include flavored herbal supplements such as echinacea, garlic, and ginger, glucosamine, probiotic drinks, and omega 3 fatty acids.
Some supplements may help improve health in different ways. Multivitamin supplements are among the most popular nutritional supplements. Women need iron during pregnancy, and all women of childbearing age need folic acid daily, whether from supplements or fortified food. Breastfed infants require vitamin D.
Some supplements have been proven effective for certain conditions, but there isn’t enough scientific evidence for efficacy on other conditions.
Reasons to consider an herb & supplement consultation
There is no meaningful regulation of products marketed as herbal medicines or supplements, including vitamins.
UCHealth’s integrative medicine locations do not sell western herbs or supplements, but we can help guide you to find high-quality, low-cost products. All herbal formulas are not created equal, and it is best to choose a reputable manufacturer’s brand.
The internet or a health-food store should not be your only sources of information on herbs and supplements. If you are truly interested in taking herbs or supplements, it is best to consult a medical professional.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about taking herbs and supplements
What happens during a consultation?
During a consultation, a provider or pharmacist will evaluate the safety and value of any herbs, supplements, or the prescription medications you are taking. You may also discuss any newly prescribed medications, over-the-counter products, herbs, or supplements you are considering taking.
Please bring all of your prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements with you to this visit.
Are herbs and supplements safe to take?
If you’re taking prescribed medicines such as aspirin, digoxin and other heart medications, diuretics, hypoglycemic agents, NSAIDs, spironolactone, or blood thinning drugs such as warfarin, it’s important not to use them at the same time as any herbal supplements without checking with your health care provider first. Some herbs and supplements may interact with your heart and blood pressure negatively. If someone is taking a blood thinner (anticoagulant) medication such as warfarin (Coumadin), they may bleed excessively if they also consume certain herbal supplements.
Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their healthcare provider. Many supplements have not been well tested for safety in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children.
To ensure you are properly and effectively treating the correct condition, please consult a qualified medical professional first before using herbs or supplements.
Do herbs and supplements need to be FDA-approved before being sold?
No. Herbs and supplements do not need to be proven safe or effective before being sold.
Unlike other over-the-counter drugs or prescribed medications, herbal supplements remain controversial because they’re not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the production and sale of herbal formulas. It’s important to always talk to your health care professional before taking any herbal supplements.
MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Herbs and Supplements – https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/herb_All.html
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Dietary and Herbal Supplements – https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/dietary-and-herbal-supplements