Safety Guidelines When Using Herbs
for Holistic Healing of Your Mind, Body and Soul…
The beauty of herbs lies in their ability to help your own body/mind heal itself, a process that it does most efficiently. The problem with herbs lies with the users, they have a tendency to become their own doctors. Herbalism is a natural way to supplement conventional medical care, not replace it. Learning about herbs and how they react in the body can be a dangerous knowledge if common sense rules are ignored.
Throughout the descriptions of herbs you will find comments like “may prevent”, “may help”, “may ease”, “may be effective”, and so on. The reason these phrases are used is because limitations are placed on them by the FDA. A 1990 federal law, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, gives the FDA authority over health claims by dietary supplement products such as medicinal herbs and vitamins sold over the counter. A new pharmaceutical medication can cost $500 million and require 10-15 years of testing. To make actual claims that an herbal supplement works would require the same procedure. Perhaps you can understand why manufacturers simply don’t make “factual claims” and instead use the word “may”. However, those of us who believe in the effectiveness of herbs have centuries of time testing to back up our beliefs, not to mention our own successes in using herbs.
In most cases, if you go to a store and peruse the herbal items for sale there, you will find little, if any information on the label regarding what the herb does for you. Again, this is because of FDA restrictions. It is best to research the use and benefits of herbs to go along with the supplements you buy.
Suggested doses are usually found on the labels but remember even these vary greatly between manufacturers, strengths vary as well. Other factors need to be taken into consideration, too, like individual circumstance, allergies and effects on your system. Always start with the lowest dosage recommended and proceed from there. Learn first how the herb reacts in your system, if you experience any negative side-effects, discontinue use immediately. Many people have a tendency to believe “if this much works, more will work better…” however, this axiom applied to almost anything, including herbs, can be dangerous.
The herbal supplement industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade and especially over the last few years. At this time it is approximately a $6.1 billion per year industry (some reports are much higher). Many folk remedies have led to modern medicines, and today a growing number of scientists and physicians are turning back to nature for sources of new drug compounds. Natural medications continue to help fight age-old scourges and to offer promise in developing cures for cancer, heart disease and mental health problems. Today about 40 to 50% of synthesized drugs are based on herbal remedies.
Let’s discuss some common sense guidelines in the use of herbs. Please pay particular attention to these and remember that any serious condition needs to be dealt with by a licensed medical doctor or herbalist. Do not attempt to treat yourself for serious medical problems without guidance. In any case, when visiting your doctor be sure to inform him/her that you are taking herbs – because medications he/she prescribes for you may interact with them. (Check the Drug Interactions Checklist here.)
- Pregnant and nursing women should consult with their doctor before using any herb.
- Herbal remedies are usually not appropriate for children under two years of age.
- People have different sensitivity levels to medication. Begin with the lowest dosage and increase gradually.
- Herbs should be used with caution by those over 65 and they should consult with their doctors before using.
- If you suffer from a chronic illness, seek professional help.
- If you are on prescribed medications, check with your doctor due to possible drug interaction.
- If a minor condition does not respond to herbal treatment in two or three weeks, seek professional attention.
- Do not attempt to treat any serious illness yourself. Seek professional attention.
- If you experience any negative side effects with an herb, discontinue use.
Rarely does an herb at the prescribed dose cause stomach upset or headache. This may reflect the purity of the preparation or added ingredients such as synthetic binders or fillers. For this reason, only high quality, standardized extract formulas are recommended.