Seniors on the move: Is an herbal remedy right for your ills?

We hear a lot in the news these days about gingko biloba, St. John's wort and other miracle supplements that can increase our brainpower, stop memory loss or lower cholesterol.

We hear a lot in the news these days about gingko biloba, St. John’s wort and other miracle supplements that can increase our brainpower, stop memory loss or lower cholesterol.

But how much is truth and how much is fiction?

If you choose to use herbal supplements, how can you reap the benefits they offer without risking your health and wasting your money?

Ask yourself these questions:

Has the manufacturer done research on this specific product, or is that manufacturer using “borrowed research?”


A manufacturer may make broad claims about the benefits of St. John’s Wort in general but not mention the dosage or purity of their tablets.

Just because it’s been proven by a clinical study that a certain formulation is beneficial, it doesn’t follow that any product containing St. John’s Wort will do what the study claims.

Does the product make outrageous claims?

Avoid any product that makes promises no product can possibly live up to.

There are no herbal cancer cures, fountains of youth, or weight-loss miracles.

Remember what your mom used to tell you: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Is the manufacturer reputable?

You’ll need to do your homework.


It’s important to buy herbals only from companies you can trust to provide a safe and effective product.

Herbal products are not tested with the scientific rigor required of conventional drugs, and they are not subject to the approval process of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Talk with your pharmacist about the different products available.

Does the product label give information about standardized formulations?

You need this information to know how much of the active ingredient you are taking and that the same amount of this ingredient is present in each tablet.

Does the label warn of any possible side effects?

Know what adverse effects to look for before you start taking any herbal.

The label should also tell you if the product is not safe for people with certain chronic conditions. 


Does the product give you clear dosage instructions?

Too much of even a good thing can do you harm.

Too little can waste your money.

Children should not use herbal products because their effects and proper dosage are unknown.

If you use vitamins or herbal supplements, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully to obtain the maximum benefit with the least risk.

Some could interfere with your prescribed treatment.

If you have any questions or concerns about possible drug interactions, consult your health care professional.

Make sure your doctor and pharmacist know about every drug you are taking, including nonprescription drugs and any dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals and herbals.


If you have problems or experience side effects related to medication, call your health care provider right away.

It is also important to remember that many drugs interact with other drugs and may cause serious medical conditions.

This article is made possible with Older Americans Act dollars from the Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging. Call the Senior LinkAge® at 800-333-2433 to speak with an information specialist, or check out our website at . The site includes more than 12,000 agencies and 44,000 services across the state of Minnesota.

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