Are Standardized Products Best?

Commercial herbal supplements that have the word "standardized" on the label may seem to be the best choice. But standardization only means that the product has been tested to determine the type and amount of at least one active botanical constituent. While this can help improve the quality of encapsulated herbs, the method does have limitations.

Research shows that the medicinal benefit of a particular herb does not necessarily reside in a particular constituent but rather comes from a complex combination of constituents. Standardization implies that only the standardized constituent is important. It's like labeling a carrot as containing a certain amount of beta-carotene, when carrots contain so many other healthful nutrients.

Web sites such as www.consumerlab.com that base their entire assessment of a product on the presence of a standardized amount of a particular constituent do not give the whole picture. This is especially the case because some unethical companies try to beat the standardization system in various ways. That's why it's important to know that the company making the product and the company doing the testing are both legitimate and ethical.

Americans are accustomed to turning to pills for their medicine, so it may seem natural to take herbs in supplement form. But this is often not the optimal way to take herbs as an alternative medicine. Grinding an herb into powder often damages delicate medicinal constituents, shortening shelf life and reducing potency.

Fresh herbs, recently dried herbs, and whole herbs chopped just before being eaten or made into tea are often quite a bit stronger and therefore more effective. But if you cannot obtain a fresh herb, your only option is to use an herbal supplement. In this article, we will review what you need to know before buying herbal products.

Safety and Quality Issues

Herbal products are widely available, yet unfortunately there are many companies that sell products of substandard quality and purity.

Herbal products are considered dietary supplements by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and they are not subject to the same standards as prescription and nonprescription drugs. Manufacturers don't have to prove the safety and efficacy of herbal products before they put them on the market. They are only required to provide accurate information on the product's label about the contents, the quantity, the manufacturer, and the directions for use.

In addition, the FDA requires a Supplement Facts panel that lists serving size, dietary and nondietary ingredients, and amount per serving size as well as the scientific name of the plant. However, there is insufficient enforcement to be sure that the herbs you buy (especially on the Internet) will do what you want -- and that they won't do anything else.

Who Can You Trust?

The safest way to obtain herbal products is to contact a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner who uses herbs clinically and can recommend legitimate herbal companies.

For supplements of Western herbs, consult either a licensed naturopathic physician who is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) or an herbalist who is a member of the American Herbalists Guild (AHG). These two organizations admit only highly qualified practitioners who have studied and learned to use Western herbal medicines safely and effectively. They are best able to steer you to safe products or companies.

An alternative is to shop at small, local herb stores. Large chains and health food stores that do not specialize in herbs or that are run by conglomerates are less likely to have consistently excellent quality. Small shops are mostly run by herbalists who love herbal medicine and pride themselves on the quality of their herbs. Most of them have spent many years studying and improving their skills. And while they, too, have a profit motive, it is much less likely to lead to them cut corners or sell inferior products.

Herb companies that belong to the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) are always the most reputable. This industry group requires its members to uphold higher standards than those mandated by U.S. laws.

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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.