Natural Remedies May Have Unnatural Results

Here are some tips for selecting supplements so you won’t have to fool with Mother Nature

Nature’s Pharmacy

Most of us prefer natural remedies.

They are cheaper, easier to get and if taken properly may have fewer side effects. Herbs and dietary supplements have been around for centuries but a 1994 Congressional Act has touched off a recent resurgence in sales.

The Dietary and Nutritional Supplement Health and Education Act allows manufacturers to market herbs, vitamins and supplements as food items as long as no claim is made about curing disease. Only if a product is proven unsafe can the Food and Drug Administration step in to control its distribution.

The trend toward Natural Healing as an alternative to prescription medicines (which are costly and necessitate a visit to a doctor’s office and a pharmacy) has increased to the point that many physicians now freely admit that they have been using supplements.

But don’t fool with Mother Nature. You might need some medical education of your own to avoid unnatural consequences. Things to consider are: interactions with drugs you are already taking, existing medical conditions that may contra-indicate use of the supplement, purity of the manufactured supplement and concentration of active ingredient in each pill.

The last two items, purity and concentration, are important because unlike regulated pharmaceutical companies there are no government rules on these businesses. According to the American Medical News, a publication of the American Medical Association, there are variations in purity and concentration from manufacturer to manufacturer and sometimes from one batch of the supplement to the next.

Several recent national surveys have shown that up to 75% of Americans either think that the FDA regulates food supplements or that the FDA should be involved. So, before purchasing a supplement look for some evidence of quality control which the supplement industry is beginning to implement on its own.

But can natural products really do any harm? The term “natural” may be misleading because many of our prescription drugs originally came from plants. The Belladonna plant, for example, manufactures a form of atropine, used intravenously when a patient’s heart stops. It can also precipitate a heart attack and kill. It was used as a poison many years ago.

Another example is the Foxglove plant which produces a form of digoxin, used to regulate heart rhythms. In the wrong concentrations it too can be a killer. The list of prescription medications that come from nature is a long one, probably as long as the list of herbal supplements now sold as food products.

One Army physician, Captain Mark Hainer, DO is quoted in the American Medical News as saying “Some of these herbal medications have properties that can be very similar to pharmaceutical drugs.”

Here are some rules to follow in selecting products that are best for you:

1. Most physicians view supplements as an adjunctive treatment, not a definitive cure. This means that you should get medical attention and intervention if your condition worsens, does not improve or if you think you are having an adverse reaction. Self-medicating is not a substitute for proper medical care.

2. Avoid taking a supplement based only on someone else’s experience. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another and there may be undesirable side effects the other person didn’t have.

3. Be especially careful in your selection for children, the elderly, the chronically ill, those who may be pregnant or those on birth control pills.

4. If possible, discuss it with your pharmacist or care-giver first. This could save you a lot of money.

5. Do not take more of the supplement than is recommended by the manufacturer. Many people have had to be taken to the Emergency Room because of this.

6. Read the entire label of the supplement before purchasing. It may have valuable information on who should not take it.

7. As with any product you purchase, choose a manufacturer you trust. Some products have been reported to have adulterants and impurities that may affect your health.

8. Inform your care givers and hospital staff about what you are taking. Stopping some supplements abruptly may have undesirable effects on your health and well-being.

9. For updated news on supplements check with the Food and Drug Administration’s web page.

10. Avoid products that promise a complete cure or claim to treat a great variety of disorders for any one who takes it. If it is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not a recommendation for treatment or assessment of diagnosis. Because diagnosis and treatment is highly dependent on individual circumstances, no changes in your therapy should be made or adopted without first consulting carefully with a qualified health care provider.

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