urlopopHerbal medicines have been used since the ancient days. However, these organic supplements have not been subject to serious scientific scrutiny and they are also not strictly regulated as conventional medicine. With this in mind, it is important for users of herbal medicine to know how to recognize products that are safe and helpful.

Are herbal medicines safe?
FDA regulates herbal medicine as dietary supplements and not as drugs or food. The following are the rules related to dietary supplements:

• FDA is not mandated to approve dietary supplements before they are put on the market. Manufacturers are allowed to make claims that their products have specific nutritional benefits so long as the claims have supporting research.

• Manufacturers must meet all the quality standards when processing the products. This is to prevent incorporation of harmful ingredients such as pesticides and lead into the supplements.

• FDA is responsible for monitoring the safety of a dietary supplement once it has been released into the market. If the safety of a product is found wanting, legal action is taken against the manufacturer.

These regulations should assure the users of herbal supplements that the products are safe for use.

How do you know what is contained in herbal medicine?
Many people are concerned with the ingredients found in herbal medicine. FDA requires all manufacturers of herbal medicine to label their products with the following information.

• The name of the product

• The name and address of the manufacturer

• All the ingredients

• Active ingredient, amount and serving size

If you don't understand something on the label, ask your herbalist or pharmacist for clarity. Better yet, you can check the ingredients on the Dietary Supplement Label Database, which is found on the National Institute of Health's website. This database contains information about thousands of ingredients found in dietary supplements.

There are several things you can do to know if the product will be helpful to your body:

• Ask your herbalist. If they are dispensing the medicine, they should be able to provide evidence of its efficacy, usage and risks.

• Search for scientific research findings. The office of Dietary Supplements and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) are two great websites that provide information about all herbal medicine.

• Call or email the manufacturer. They should be able to answer all your questions and substantiate their claims.