What's In Your Herbal Remedies and Supplements?

In the wake of FDA warnings about steroids in nutritional supplements, federal officials are studying ways to improve safety in dietary supplements. Mean time, we’ve got a few consumer tips for those of you who take supplements, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

1) Research, research, research. Before taking any unfamiliar substance (including herbal remedies, of course), check their safety and effectiveness. The law of averages says that whatever you’re taking is probably safe—most supplements are—but it’s wise to check nonetheless. Government sources are some of the most reliable for medical information. The Wall Street Journal recommends the National Library of Medicine’s “Drugs and Supplements” section for evidence, side effects, and interactions. Also two National Institute of Health websites, the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Office of Dietary Supplements contains a wealth of data, without all the hippie mumbo-jumbo.

If your main concern is effectiveness, you may want to subscribe to Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which provides effectiveness ratings. With the high-cost of supplements, the $9.97 per month would likely pay for itself it saved you from buying even one product. This database not only includes info about specific ingredients, but brands as well.

2) Read the ingredients.

Potentially dangerous substances often won’t be disclosed. But sometimes they are-if you know what to look for. One step is to look for drugs banned for top athletes, or variations on those names. The World Anti-Doping Agency list is at http://www.wada-ama.org under “Resources for Athletes.” Certain suffixes in chemical names are common for steroids or tweaked versions of them. Among them are -one, -ene, -iol and -bol, though these can also appear in the names of legitimate ingredients. Some products also use versions of steroid names in their brands, like “tren” to connote trenbolone.

3) Lookout for symptoms. If you have any serious side effects, report them to the FDA.

(Photo: stevenb ohio)

What’s Really in Supplements? [The Wall Street Journal]