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Do You Know Your Herbal Supplements?

October 25, 2007, 5:09 PM by Jaine Andrews

Do You Know Your Herbal Supplements?
Herbal supplements are big business. Millions of people spend billions of dollars on herbs such as ginseng, ginkgo, and St. John's Wort. Many of these supplements have real health benefits. But many don't and some are downright dangerous. 

A Mayo Clinic study shows that most people who take herbal supplements don't know enough about the supplements they're taking. 

Cheerleading has been a part of Connie Walker's life for 40 years. 

Walker says, "I was a high school cheerleader." 

…and a college cheerleader. Now a coach. 

Walker's also a long-term fan of staying fit and taking herbal supplements. She says, "There are a lot of health issues in my family. The two glaring ones are heart disease and diabetes." 

Walker takes several supplements known to help both conditions. Walker says, "Omega-3, fish oil, flaxseed..." 

But before Walker takes any of these herbal supplements she makes sure she talks to her doctor first so she knows the risks and the benefits." 

That information is important to her health too. A Mayo Clinic study led by Dr. Aditya Bardia shows two-thirds of all Americans who take herbal supplements do so without knowing the science behind the supplements. Without knowing if they're safe. 

Dr. Bardia says, "These supplements, like any drugs, can have adverse effects. They can react with other drugs you're taking." 

For example, Dr. Bardia says Ephedra, which was taken off the market, can cause heart problems. St. John's Wort may help depression, but it can also interrupt how your body metabolizes certain drugs, making them less effective. 

And because herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA, they may contain ingredients not listed on the label. So talk to your doctor before you take herbal supplements to make sure they're improving your health, not hurting it. 

Mayo Clinic

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