Any plant used as a medicine is an herbal remedy. People use herbal remedies to help prevent diseases, get relief from symptoms, boost energy, lose weight, or relax.
Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate herbals as closely as other medications, some have little scientific evidence to support their claims. Still, many people rely on herbal remedies for health benefits, just like conventional medicine.
Here’s an easy guide to understanding the side effects, safety, and efficacy of herbal remedies.
What Are Herbal Remedies?
Historically, herbs were one of the main forms of treating diseases in humans. Centuries later, they are still a part of many types of medicine, such as herbalism, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine.
These products may contain herbs, compounds of herbs, algae, or fungi. They may come in the form of capsules or tablets, seeds or flowers, powders, tinctures, teas, or tonics.
Some are common herbs you may see in your grocery store or cook with:
- Rosemary has been used to stimulate energy and optimism and sharpen memory by bringing more oxygen to the brain. People use it as an alternative to caffeine when they need an extra boost.
- Cilantro is often used as garnish for dishes but also can be used as a digestive aid and detoxifying agent.
- Lavender is known for its sweet smell, but also boasts the ability to help with stress, tension, and insomnia.
- Peppermint is a familiar flavor in gum and toothpaste, but studies report that it can help relieve indigestion and vomiting when brewed as a tea.
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The Difference Between Herbal Remedies and Medicines
There are important differences between over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal remedies.
Because of the different regulations, herbal remedies can cause side effects and allergic reactions when taken at the wrong doses.
Herbal products are reviewed for safety and efficacy by the FDA only if consumers report problems or adverse effects from them. Sometimes, herbal products are found to have illegal substances, unlisted ingredients, or poisons.
Lack of regulation and study
Evidence and studies that show herbal remedies work can vary. While many people report health benefits from taking herbal remedies regularly, some studies do not prove any benefits after taking the product. Studies also may lack scientific validity, meaning there may have been a small number of participants or a lack of diversity among the studied group. This can make it difficult to know if an herbal remedy will actually help people in general.
Taking herbal remedies can result in adverse or allergic reactions. Symptoms can include digestive issues, insomnia, headaches, and bruising or bleeding. That is why it is important to talk to a doctor before starting any medications – whether herbal or conventional.
Why People Choose Herbal Remedies
Many people choose herbal remedies because they want a more natural way to treat illnesses. Because herbal remedies contain plants, people believe they are safer and better for them.
While some people do say their symptoms decreased and that herbal products provide health benefits, not all herbal remedies have been studied or proven to be effective.
When and How to Choose a Safe Herbal Remedy
If you’re interested in trying herbal remedies, it’s best to follow these steps to ensure your safety:
First, always consult a qualified medical professional and discuss what herbal remedies you are looking to start taking. This is especially important if you are:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Trying to conceive a baby.
- Taking other medications that could interfere with the herbal remedies.
- Undergoing surgery or other medical treatments soon.
Once you get clearance to take the herbal remedy, be sure to follow all instructions on the label or instructions from a doctor. If symptoms develop, stop using the product and seek medical attention immediately.
When choosing an herbal remedy, look for brands that use third-party testing to ensure their facilities and products are high-quality and not contaminated. This means looking for:
- Seals of quality from ConsumerLab, NSF International, or U.S. Pharmacopeia.
- Companies that follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs).
- Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry testing for essential oils.
The Importance of Consulting a Doctor
Herbal remedies are a type of traditional medicine that uses plant-based ingredients to treat illnesses. While they are popular and widely used, it’s important to remember they are not always effective or safe. It’s best to speak with your provider before using these products.
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