What do I need to know about herbal supplements?

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Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Many Americans swear by herbal supplements, and we believe there's good reason for their enthusiasm. Even though the data aren't rock-solid yet, there's no doubt that many herbal supplements can deliver strong benefits. But they also carry dangers, and that's where we get a bit anxious about the fervor over these au naturel treatments.

In fact, we prefer to call herbal supplements by another name. One that's more accurate. We call them drugs.

Several herbs are potent substances that can cause strong effects in the body -- desired and not. Even if they don't pose a danger by themselves, herbs can affect the absorption, circulation, metabolism, or excretion of other substances in the body -- such as prescription medicines.

For example, taking St. John's wort -- a popular supplement that some research suggests may alleviate symptoms of depression -- can accelerate the metabolism of birth control pills. In other words, taking St. John's wort as a happy pill may lead to a little unexpected bundle of joy.

Further, the safety of mixing common herbal supplements together is still a big question, and we see a lot of patients who eat more herbs in a day than your average locust swarm. These patients are graciously volunteering to be guinea pigs in their own informal clinical studies.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.