Thinking about introducing herbal supplements into your care routine?  With so many products on the market, it may be difficult to determine what is safe.  Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Katie Schaeffer, offers guidance on how to safely utilize herbs for medicinal benefit.

Herbal Supplement Safety

Herbal medicine has been used for hundreds of years around the world to treat ailments and improve health. A few generations ago, a person would need to visit a trained practitioner to access herbal tinctures and supplements, but today these products are available in grocery stores, drug stores, and the over the internet. Because herbal supplements are so widely available, many people assume they are safe. However, herbal supplements can have powerful effects on the body and may act or interact in similar ways as prescription drugs. For this reason, herbal supplements should be treated with caution and should be used under the care of a trained healthcare provider who is familiar with herbs and plant medicine.

If you’re interested in dipping your toe into herbs but are worried about safety, there are some ways to get the benefits of herbs with less risk. Many herbs that are used as medicine are also available for culinary uses and in tea forms. Unlike supplemental forms of herbs, these products are more strictly monitored for purity and accuracy of ingredients. Try introducing fresh or dried herbs, spices, and vegetables into your cooking instead of popping a pill. For example, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cranberry, cinnamon, fenugreek, dandelion, and rosemary are as effective or more effective when eaten in food instead of a supplement form. For herbs that might not be as easy to find in the produce section, check the tea aisle. Echinacea, milk thistle, moringa, valerian, skullcap, and tulsi are all commonly found in tea form. Making a tea as directed with 1 tea bag will provide a gentle and effective dose of herbs with less risk of side effects or interactions (this doesn’t mean zero risk, use with caution).

As with any supplement, use caution when starting an herbal supplement and discuss with your healthcare provider or dietitian before beginning an herbal supplement routine. Just like any over-the-counter supplements, taking multiple servings a day of herbs even in tea form can be harmful to your health. Be sure you know what you’re taking and how it may interact with your medications or other herbs before taking. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not start any herbal supplements without discussing with their healthcare team.


Katie Schaeffer, MS, RDN, CDN, CDCES

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