Do natural supplements work?
Natural supplements are very popular right now all over the world and have been there for many years acting as an alternative t the manmade prescription drugs. The supplements usually come from plants. It has been said that herbs are a natural way in the treatment of depression, relieving symptoms of menopause and warding off flu, colds and others. Just for the reasons that a supplement is natural does not mean that it has no risks of side effects when it is taken . An example is the St. John’s Wort which is used by thousands of people daily to treat mild depression. The bright yellow flower may seem very harmless when taken but it has several side effects which include, fatigue, dizziness, sensitivity to sunlight and nausea.
Some people have even had Hypertension as a result of taking the St. John’s Wort. Many natural supplements that are made from bark, stems, seeds, leaves and flowers of a wide range of plants have largely been used as folk remedies for many years. The Americans have been seen to consume growing amounts of the natural supplements in hope to fight diseases and other various conditions even though there has been little scientific evidence in support of the health benefits associated to the natural supplements. Currently, the federal government has stepped up research into how safe and effective the natural supplements- which include garlic, elderberry, St. John’s Wort, black cohosh, plant oils, and the licorice- are. The main purpose of the research is to enhance the understanding of how the compounds in the plants can have effects on health so as to help the consumers in making decisions that are more informed in the use of natural supplements.
According to the American Botanical Council, the sale of natural supplements in the United States went to a high of $5 billion in last year which is a 17% increase from five years ago. People are often using natural supplements to satisfy purposes which the supplements were not intended for such as treatment of health problems that they have diagnosed for themselves or using several supplements in addition to prescribed medications. Marguerite Klein who is the director of Botanical Centers Research at the Nation Institutes of Health says that the heavy use black cohosh by women to treat the symptoms of menopause like the hot flashes is a major concern. This is so because, very few research tend to support the benefits of using the black cohosh. The black cohosh is linked to breast cancer and liver damage in some patients and as such patients are advised not to use it because the effects of black cohosh on breast tissues are not known. The studies that have been funded by the federal grants so far show that the capsules of chamomile may assist in the reduction of anxiety in comparison with the placebo. The studies have also indicated that extracts from milk thistle plant interfere with the life cycle of the virus in hepatitis C. They have also disagreed with the purported advantages of botanical supplements for example that the ginkgo biloba doesn’t prevent the risk of heart attacks, cancer, and stroke or memory loss. Unlike the prescribed drugs which have to be tested in the clinical trials and then approved by Food and Drug Administration prior to marketing, natural supplements do not need any regulatory approval. In June, FDA began to require that all makers of supplements to follow strict standards of quality manufacturing but the agency only inspect the plants.
In May, the General Accounting Office published an investigation which found marketing practices that are deceptive at several online retailers which included claims that natural supplements can cure or could prevent conditions such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The same investigation indicated that it found some traces of contaminants that are potentially hazardous such as bacteria or lead in 37 out of 40 natural supplement products that they tested. Tod Cooperman who is president of ConsumerLab.com that carries out tests on supplement brands to ensure quality said that the group has often found problems with 25% of supplements and particularly with the supplements that have ingredients from overseas. Recent review made from ginseng found that about 45% had failed the tests on quality because they did not contain the amount of ginseng that had been advertised or were even contaminated with traces of lead.
The director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, William Cefalu said that researchers have only begun to understand how thousands of compounds in plants interact and also how the concentrations of chemicals in plants affect their potency. An example is the way, peppermint tea has been considered to be a safe drink, even though peppermint oil, usually taken for indigestion or for bowel syndrome, is in higher concentration and if used in high doses can be toxic. For the reasons that the potency of the wild plants can be varied, researchers have taken a step further to cultivate their own plants. Natural supplements such as the black cohosh and the Echinacea have proven to be a big business. It has been estimated that we spend more than 300m Euros every year on natural supplements and the demand for the same is ever on the rise with one out of five people using them. The people suffering from chronic and serious illnesses are also turning to natural supplements. Even with the evidence that work and data for some natural supplements is doubtful and conflicting, there are some more concerns on safety. Most people buy supplements in a belief that they can act on the mind or body but they do not realize that there is less of no control on what they contain or what they do. Research in America has shown that preparations off-the-shelf contain between 0 and 200% of what the label indicates.
The European Union directive on herbal and traditional medicines that regulates the quality and safety of product was put into effect this week and it gives the manufacturers of natural supplement seven years to fully comply with the new regulations. The big differences in the quality and quantity of natural supplement products may have been the major reason as to why there are conflicting results in research. Another problem may be attributed to lack of the required controls and the small size of samples used. There are also challenges for the people investigating whether natural supplements work as it is subject to factors like the type of people participating in the investigations.
The researchers at Medical Research Council have been looking at the long-term use of natural supplements in 2,000 people who were born in the 1946. The findings were that those people who used natural supplements did tend to be non-smokers and also took exercises, had less weight, were slimmer and also had high levels of vitamin B12 in the blood. Those who did not use supplement tended to be non-eaters on healthy foods like breakfast cereals, fruit juices, olive oil, oily fish, yoghurt and fruits. They had very low levels of magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C and iron in their diet. Paradoxically, it was noted that the people who require supplements are the ones who least use them and those that were using the supplements were the ones who least required them. Natural supplements have been proven to major enemies to prescribed drugs. The supplements have been found to often interact with prescribed medication. An example is the Marshmallow which hampers the absorption of prescribed medicines. The garlic and some other herbs have been said to thin blood which as a result raises the risk of a person to bleed or bruise particularly if it is taken with medicines that are meant for blood-thinning like the warfarin. Some other herbs like the fenugreek and the bitter melon lower the levels of blood glucose and hence they should be used with caution for patients that use the diabetes medication.
Natural supplements have also been seen to worsen the side effects caused by medication. For example, the Dandelion increases the side effects caused by lithium. Supplements are also very dangerous when taken with some specific medicines and as such it is not advisable to combine supplements that have glycosides like the squill, digitalis, and hedge mustard with prescribed medications that has cardiac glycosides as this can cause heart failure, arrhythmias and even death. Some natural supplements such as the ones that contain grapefruit changes the way drugs are metabolized in a person’s body and they potentially increase the amount in a person’s body to levels that are dangerous for humans. Natural supplements are often safe for most of the people even though most of them have not been approved by the FDA and as such pregnant or nursing women should be very careful before they start supplement regime. Natural supplements are a great way of increasing productivity but only if one can handle its side effects and when purchasing them, one should make sure that the dealer is reputable to avoid health problems.
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