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DrSugar Answers: Are Herbal Supplements Safe?

DrSugar is in the house and he's answering your health questions.

Dear DrSugar,
I've never taken herbal supplements, but I know many people do. I read about herbal supplements that reduce body fat, specifically belly fat, and possibly stress. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me? What do you think of herbal supplements in general? How does someone find quality herbal supplements . . . do you recommend any? I would love some advice on the matter.
— Herb Curious

This is an increasingly popular subject. Learn what the doctor has to say on the matter when you


There is a tremendous amount of misinformation out there surrounding the use and efficacy of herbal supplements. If you go to a local herbal supplement store, as I have recently, and read the bottle labels, you will see a wide variety of claims such as "stress reducer," "sexual enhancer," "ultra fat burner," and more. Most of these claims have not been validated by scientific studies and compared with a placebo. In some instances, product claims have been completely debunked. Vitamin E, for instance, has been proven to not reduce the risk of cancer despite its antioxidant content. Regarding supplements claiming to reduce belly fat and stress: if they really worked and were safe, who wouldn’t be taking them? Can you imagine a safe pill that took five pounds off the belly and relieved stress? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Some supplements and vitamins are effective and safe. Calcium supplements and vitamin D promote long-term bone health and can reduce risks of developing osteoporosis. Fish oil has been shown to have beneficial effects on lowering cholesterol. St. John's Wort has provided some benefits in treating mild depression, but not severe depression. A multivitamin can be beneficial for people who do not eat a well rounded diet due to dietary restrictions or other health problems. The list goes on.

The key is to be skeptical of herbal supplements claims and to research specific supplements from a reputable source. The Mayo Clinic's Drugs and Supplement site has an extensive review of supplements and highlights the supporting data (or lack of) for each use. Keep in mind that not all supplements are safe. Heavily advertised Hydroxycut, for example, was recently pulled from shelves for causing liver problems. Other "fat burners" were just stimulants and were pulled off the market for causing heart problems. Many herbal medicines can also interact with traditional medicines, so always talk to your doctor first if you’re already on other medicines.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

Join The Conversation
herbs herbs 8 years
herbs-wholesale Health Experts Say "Your good health starts with you. Take steps to reduce your risk of disease and talk to your health care professional about your health concerns". The more you know about your health, the more likely you are to live a long and happy life! Thx
ShelleyHFan ShelleyHFan 8 years
It's funny this is my question (it's on my blog) and I wanted to know specifically Magnolia Bark- Rhodiola Rosea phosphatidylserin and I emailed fit about it too. Happy to find an answer here. And thanks littlemzfit I will try those sites!
brookrene brookrene 8 years
I firmly believe in herbal supplements and have been taking them for several years. My daily regimen is like this Vitamin A, zinc and chromium picolinate in the morning after breakfast Multi-vitamin and chromium picolinate and vitamin a after lunch 5-HTP and Super B-Complex about 3 pm to boost my energy for my workouts. I used to take zoloft, paxil whatever to get rid of my depression/anxiety. 5-HTP is a natural mood-booster and is supposed to help with weight (though i haven't noticed this effect because I take it for depression). Chromium picolinate helps to metabolize sugars and fat I believe. If you're curious about vitamins and herbal supplements i recommend Dr. Earl Mindell's Vitamin Bible, tons of info!
LittleMzFit LittleMzFit 8 years
Oh, and everyone should know by now that Mayo is soooooo pro-pharma so if you are looking for anything good to say about herbs and supplements you won't find it there. Better try American Botanical Council @, Citizens for Health, or if you are looking for nonbiased information and small scale studies because Lord knows they can't afford the giant studies like the pharmaceutical companies. Also, there are numerous studies on Vitamin E throughout the last several decades, so don't just "throw out the baby with the bathwater" just yet.
LittleMzFit LittleMzFit 8 years
BTW Hydroxycut did not get "pulled" off the shelves. It was a voluntary recall on their part because of the allegations. Yeah, the good & bad scientists are all duking it out right now... the ones who don't get paid off, that is.
nia0nia nia0nia 8 years
any news on the identity of doctor sugar?
Spectra Spectra 8 years
I don't take any herbal supplements, but I do like to relax with a cup of herbal tea when I'm stressed out. It really helps me unwind...I'm not sure if it would do anything to help you lose weight though.
bluepuppybites bluepuppybites 8 years
I took fenugreek to increase my milk supply when I was nursing, and a cranberry supplement to help keep infections at bay. Those are the only ones besides a multivitamin that I have taken.
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