or Not to Go Herbal, that is the Question…
"What is the difference between a drug and a dietary supplement?"
Many people nowadays are turning to “organics” and “naturals” otherwise known as herbals. The
rising popularity of herbal supplements has created a new fad if not a new health lifestyle. But before you join
the bandwagon, here are some things you need to know about this mean, “green” dietary supplementing machine.
What is the difference between a drug and a dietary supplement?
According to the definition set by food and drug administrations in different countries, drugs are chemicals that
can prevent, prolong the life, treat other effects of a health condition, improve the quality of life, and/or cure
ailments and diseases, or alter the function of any part or chemicals inside the body. These drugs have approved
therapeutic claims. For example, paracetamol is a drug given to bring down the body temperature in fever. Ascorbic
acid is indicated for the treatment of scurvy. Iron supplements are given to treat mild cases of anemia.
Herbal supplements are not classified as drugs but as dietary supplements. The main difference is that they do not
have approved therapeutic claims unlike in the case of drugs. Moreover, dietary supplements could either contain
vitamins, minerals, herbals, or amino acids - all aimed to add to or supplement the diet of an individual. They are
not intended to be taken alone as a substitute to any food or medicine.
Most of the manufactured medicines we now have once came from animals and plants. Through the years, chemists
isolated the life-saving or life-curing components and separated them from the harmful ones. This lead to the
further drug research and drug development that lead to the production of a different variety of drugs for many
ailments and conditions from synthetic sources. But still we have semi-synthetic drugs, as well as drug that more
or less approximate more natural composition. Since herbal supplements are made from a mixture of crude herbs
reduced into powder or gel form, and later on packaged as tablets and capsules, there is a possibility that
life-threatening or at least body chemistry-altering components are still present, thus the expression of concern
from the medical community.
Is there a growing concern with the use of herbal supplements?
Yes. With the rising popularity of using and consuming, anything herbal or organic can include fake herbal
supplements that endanger lives. If that’s the case, then why are herbal supplements given drug administration
approvals? One way of ensuring the safety of the people is to have all candidate drugs, food, drinks, and dietary
supplements registered with the proper authority. Otherwise, they would pose more risk with these things being sold
on the black market for a hefty sum. We could ensure the quality and safety of herbal supplements if they get
proper classification with the food and drug administration. Moreover, people may be able to file the proper
complaints in the event a worsening of health condition is proven to be linked to the use of a particular herbal
Is using herbal supplements worth the risk?
Yes. It cannot be discounted that many who have tried herbal supplements experienced an improvement in their health
- whether this is due to the herbals themselves or due to a placebo effect, as long as they do not worsen the
condition of an individual, then using them is worth the risk. But of course, certain things must be considered
before taking those herbal supplements:
Your doctor knows best.
First of all, clear your condition with your doctor. Ask him/her if taking a particular herbal supplement is safe
given your health condition. People with heart, liver, or kidney trouble or malfunction, are usually not advised to
take these, or at least to take these herbals in minimum amounts. All substances pass through the liver and kidney
to be processed and filtered respectively. Kava, which is used to relieve people from stress, has been pulled out
from the Canadian, Singaporean, and German markets because it contains substances that cause liver damage. Certain
herbals such as Ephedra used for losing weight, contains chemicals with heart-inducing effects that can increase
heart rate, which in turn can exhaust the heart and cause heart attacks in several documented cases by the American
Follow the directions for use.
Never take more herbal supplements than what is directed by the doctor or as instructed on the bottle. Each
individual reacts differently to the components of herbal supplements. While it is perfectly safe for one
individual to take in a supplement of primrose oil capsules, another person may be allergic to it. So, do not even
think about downing one bottle of it.
It has no approved curative effect.
No matter how the product pamphlet or the label of the bottle sounds about how it has been found to be helpful in
certain health conditions, these herbal supplements are not therapeutic. So do not substitute these for the
medications prescribed by your doctor for the treatment of certain diseases, the maintenance of blood pressure,
lowering of blood sugar and cholesterol - or to fight off infections.
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