How can I supplement safely?
If your health care team agrees that herbal supplementation is appropriate for you, get to know the supplement well before you begin taking it. Resources such as the National Institute of Health’s MedlinePlus can provide basic information on many herbal supplements, along with standard dosages and potential drug interactions. Be aware of adverse effects that have been reported for that herb, and be aware of risk factors that may apply to you. Then, look for high-quality, bioavailable supplements made by reputable companies that follow Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). In general, you should search for products that are as natural as possible. This often means using a whole-food, additive-free supplement, rather than a highly processed, isolated compound. Whole-food supplements contain a wide range of enzymes, phytochemicals, and micronutrients found in natural substances such as cranberries or green tea, and this wide range of constituents can mitigate adverse effects. These complex combinations of micronutrients and phytochemicals also have a synergistic relationship and give the constituents in whole-food supplements the potential to be much more bioavailable than isolated compounds.
Once you have found a supplement you are comfortable taking, acquaint yourself with the labeled dosage. Remember: in the case of herbal supplements, it is possible to have too much of a good thing! Using the lowest effective dose is a good way to decrease the risk of an adverse response to a supplement. Most herbs are not subjected to the same testing as pharmaceuticals, and therefore appropriate dosage and toxicological data is lacking. In this case, suggested servings are often based on traditional applications and the dosage on the label is often considered safe for healthy adults. Consult your health professional to be sure the dosage on the bottle is right for you.
In conclusion, the first step to safe supplementation with herbs and botanicals is to be aware of risk factors and check with your doctor to be sure supplementing is not likely to cause an adverse reaction. If your risk is low and your health care team agrees that herbal supplements are safe for you to take, look for high-quality botanicals produced by companies who practice GMP and take the lowest dose that is effective.