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Tips for Buying, Using Herbs

November 30, 1998

Consumers can increase their chances of using herbs safely and effectively by following this advice listed in the November issue of Archives of Family Medicine.

* Recognize that herbs used for health purposes are drugs. They are chemicals that can affect the body in helpful or harmful ways. Herbs are not necessarily safe.

* Herbs are not necessarily effective. Only studies in humans comparing the herb with a placebo can determine its effectiveness, appropriate dosage and safety. Individual reports of benefits from herbs are not reliable evidence.

* Unlike medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration, herbal products are not required to prove claims about their safety and effectiveness; are not regulated to ensure quality control; and vary tremendously in concentration of active ingredients and other chemicals.

* If you decide to use herbs for health purposes, the following recommendations can help maximize the potential benefits and reduce the potential risks:

* Discuss any drugs you use, including herbal remedies, with your doctor.

* If you experience side effects, stop taking the herb and notify your doctor.

* Avoid preparations containing more than one herb.

* Be wary of commercial claims about herbs; seek unbiased and scientifically based sources of information. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for suggested sources.

* Preferentially use products that are standardized to contain a specific amount of active ingredients. Such formulations are generally more reliable, effective and economical.

* Select herb products carefully. In general, the highest quality products come from Europe or large companies in the United States with national reputations to protect. Only buy brands that list the following information on the package: the herb's common and scientific name; the name and address of the manufacturer; a batch and lot number; an expiration date; dosing guidelines; potential side effects, details of how quality is ensured.

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