Herbal supplements have recently become a highly popular form of nutritional supplements. Unlike vitamins, which are used to support overall health and body function, herbal supplements are usually targeted toward a particular health issue or illness. They can be used in a preventative manner or as a treatment for a certain ailment. For example, Echinacea is taken regularly to support the immune system while garlic might be taken for its strong antibiotic properties. Herbal dietary supplements are currently being used to treat and enhance many different physical and mental conditions. The American Botanical Council estimates that Americans spent approximately 260 million dollars on herbal dietary supplements in 2004.
Webster’s Dictionary defines an herb as a plant or a part of a plant that is valued for its medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities. To eliminate any confusion, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has formalized the following definition for all dietary supplements (with the exception of tobacco): “a dietary supplement is intended to supplement the diet; contains one or more dietary ingredients (vitamins, minerals, herbs, etc.); is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid; and is labeled on the front panel as being a dietary supplement.”
There are several kinds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that contain herbs and tend to be made from sanitized sections or derivatives of the herb and are thoroughly tested and regulated by the FDA. In contrast, herbal supplements can be made from any part of the herb. Herbal dietary supplements are sold in powder, liquid, pill, dried and various other forms. They can be taken internally or applied directly to the skin.
Today, drawing on the herbal knowledge of different cultures and traditions over many years, there are a variety of herbal remedies and nutritional supplements available. The reasons people have turned to this style of alternative health treatment are many; some mistrust the medical establishment, some have found that many herbal remedies work as well as other drugs at a fraction of the cost, others value herbal medicines because they often have less severs side-effects than pharmaceuticals.
There is a lot of misinformation involving herbal remedies and nutritional supplements. For one reason, they are not regulated by the FDA and, secondly because a lot of manufacturers try to make a quick profit from their newfound popularity. Before taking any supplement it is a good idea to do a little research. Make sure that a particular brand is reputable, that there are no warnings associated with a particular supplement, and be sure that the nutritional supplements you are interested in will not react with any other medications you might be taking.
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