How to buy herbal supplements that work

By Dr Krishna RS

Dec 13, 2016: The demand for herbs and herbal supplements are on the rise. They are available in drugstores, health food stores, on the internet, from practitioners, and by mail order. Often you must be confused about where to go to buy reliable, quality herbs and supplements.

Health professionals differ in their opinions about safety and efficacy of these herbal preparations. People usually have a notion that herbal supplements have no side effects. This is not always true. A herbal supplement can be dangerous at times if taken without prerequisite knowledge about its ingredients. The herbal supplement which suits your friend may not suit you as our bodily constitution differ from each other.

Here are some safety guidelines which should be followed before buying or using any herbal supplement:

Consult a doctor

Check with your doctor about the supplements you?re considering. The person you?re consulting should be a licensed health professional, especially one trained in herbal medicine. Remember to tell your doctor if you’re pregnant, or breast-feeding, have diabetes or taking heart, high blood pressure or other medication. Your doctor can advice you about supplements that doesn’t interact with the medications you’re taking or pose any harm. An herbal supplement can, otherwise, complicate your condition. Some herbs can cause serious side effects when consumed along with other medications like aspirin, blood thinners or blood pressure medications.

*Tablets have a shorter shelf life than tinctures
*If you want to avoid animal byproducts, look for ?gela tin-free? on capsule labels
*If you’re buying a tincture, the label should indicate whether the product came from fresh or dried herbs and state the proportion of herb to solvent (usually either alcohol or glycerine)
*Most tablets and some capsules contain fillers, binders, or excipients (substances that help keep the herb dry during manufacturing). You could have allegies to these extra ingredients. So look for capsules or tablets with the fewest number of fillers
*Avoid any product that has artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives
*There are three choices of growing conditions of herbs: organic, conventional and wildcrafted. Both organic and conventional techniques involve herbs grown on farms for consumers. Wildcrafted herbs grow in the wild. Choose organic over wildcrafted, but some herbs grow well in the wild
* There are four common ways herbs are sold: Tea (mildest), tincture (strongest), capsules and tablets
*Take tinctures and teas on an empty stomach for better absorption. Take capsules and tablets with meals so that your body can digest them. But if you have a sensitive stomach, take all herbs with meals

Ask your doctor…

  • Are the ingredients of the supplement safe or do they contain any potentially dangerous herb?
  • Do the ingredients of the supplement interact with the medicines which you are taking for a particular condition?
  • What changes have to be made in your diet and lifestyle to enhance the effectiveness of the supplements?

Beware of the quacks who pose to be alternative therapists without formal education and legal license to practice.

Be Aware

Go to a reliable health food store or drug store that will refund a product if it is unsatisfactory. Buying herbs and alternative medications is not recommended unless you know exactly what you want, including the brand names. Go for reputable brands manufactured by large companies that use natural food based ingredients as opposed to synthetic ingredients.

Check the label

Note the name of the medicine you are buying. Check the label of the herbal supplement for the ingredients, date of manufacture and expiry date. The ingredients are often insufficiently described and may confuse you. Take a look at the company name, manufacture license and quantity of medicines. Do not buy the product if the seal is tampered.

Check if the herbal supplement comes with the approval of the government. Read the leaflet provided with the supplement to learn more about the supplements and its ingredients.

As a general rule, avoid mixtures of herbs. Always prefer single herb preparations. If you find any metal or metal ashes among the ingredients listed, consult a licensed practitioner.

Take extra precaution

Patients with liver disorders, kidney problems, pregnant and lactating mothers or those after a surgery, should take extra precautions before taking herbal supplements. Some herbs may exaggerate the condition. Herbal preparations which have metals and metal ashes may be toxic for the kidneys. Few supplements are harmful to the feotus and babies. Some herbs may cause excessive bleeding or hypertension.

Be patient

Herbal supplements may take longer to take effect than their conventional counterparts because they?re often less potent than other drugs. Sometimes it can take several months to notice a difference in your health.

The more you know about natural supplements, which you would like to use, the better. And the more serious your disease is, the more care you must exercise.

Dr Krishna RS is a senior ayurvedic practitioner

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. None of the facts and figures mentioned in the story have been created by is not responsible for any factual errors. This article was first published in Joyful Living magazine, sister publication of

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