March 28, 2005 at 11:16 PM CST - Updated July 2 at 2:00 AM
More than half of us take dietary supplements, but polls show we are misinformed about how they are regulated. The FDA does not approve supplements or require warning labels about possible side effects. That's why it's important to do some research and talk to your doctor before you add herbs and supplements to your routine.
Michelle Bottaro takes herbs to boost her energy and balance her hormones. "You want something to help, something to work, so you figure it's natural, what could it hurt?" That's what many people think, but naturopathic physician Linda Grass, N.D., says even natural remedies can have side effects.
Glass says "I usually ask people if they're on any prescription drugs because I think it's really important to know if they are, if there's possible interactions with herbs or supplements."
For example, Saint John's wort shouldn't be combined with anti-depressants. Kava-kava can cause problems for people with liver damage, and pregnant women should not take black cohosh.
Grass says, "It can cause uterine contractions, and so especially if a woman had a history of miscarriages, it could, you know, bring on a miscarriage." Garlic, ginseng and ginkgo can increase the risk of bleeding.
Pharmacist Jennie Kjos, R.Ph., advises patients to stop taking them at least one week before having surgery. "You want to talk with your physician before any type of surgery to make sure that you're not taking anything that's going to interfere with the anesthetic or decrease your healing response."
Kjos says you should also consult a health care provider when starting on a new herb or supplement.
Bottaro agrees. After years of trying supplements on her own, she finally consulted a naturopathic physician, and for the first time, she's getting results. She says, "What she's giving me is working, and I'm feeling better."
And she's doing it the safe way.
It pays to do your own research before you go to the health food store, but make sure the Web site you choose is not sponsored by a supplement manufacturer or industry group.
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