If you are concerned about your health, chances are you have heard about natural medicines. Natural medicines are part of a multibillion dollar industry that has swept the nation. Nutritional supplements and herbal remedies have made some pretty fantastic claims. However, there are several questions that need to be answered before you start taking these medications.
Do they work? The answer to that question, as with most health issues, is that it depends. For example, vitamin D3 has been shown to reduce a patient’s risk for some forms of cancer. However, this vitamin is ineffective if a patient is not exposed to a few minutes of natural sunlight. Too much vitamin E, on the other hand, has been shown in a lot of studies to cause harm to patients. If you are eating a well-balanced diet, chances are you have the vitamin E that your body needs. I recommend that you should learn about these medicines first in the following three ways. (1) Your local pharmacist has access to the natural medicines database and can tell you if they are indeed safe and effective. (2) You can conduct your own internet search. This does require a lot more time because there is a lot of biased information on natural medicines. (3) Ask a physician. Always learn more about what you are about to put into your body.
Are they safe? When we think of natural, we think of safe, but this is rarely the case. The majority of our cancer drugs, which work by poisoning cells, are from natural sources. If a drug exerts an effect on your body, it will always have a side effect. A good example of this is niacin or vitamin B2. Niacin increases the good cholesterol in your body and is a heart-healthy choice; however, a side effect of this natural product is that it causes intense flushing of the face. As a result, patients are instructed to take Tylenol 30 minutes beforehand to reduce this side effect. Additionally, natural medicines interact with existing medicines. All patients should make sure that their physicians and pharmacists know what natural, herbal and over-the-counter medications they are taking.
Does a product contain what it says it does? A recent study by the National Institutes of Health showed that many natural remedies are mislabeled or do not contain what they say on the bottle. This raises the question: How do we know that the doses are correct? The answer to that is on the label of the product. The United States Pharmacopeia seal of approval will appear next to the name of the product as a golden circle with a green boarder with USP written in the center. Additionally, the consumer lab and the NSF international label are two other labels that guarantee these natural medications contain a proper label as well as active ingredients.
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All these questions can be answered by visiting your local pharmacy.
Steve T. Flynn is a second-year 2019 PharmD candidate at the Idaho State University College of Pharmacy and is currently acting as PPSA Policy VP of ISU in Meridian.