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Herbal Supplements

More and more people are taking herbal supplements every day. They take them for a variety of different reasons – everything from improving their general health, to caring for chronic conditions like back pain. Many of these consumers believe that because these herbs are considered “natural,” that they must also be safe. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

This information is presented in order that you may make an educated decision on whether or not to use herbal supplements, as well as some things you should watch out for.

It’s important to understand that herbs can have benefits as well as unwanted side effects, just like prescriptions drugs. For instance, herbal supplements can cause drug interactions with both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and could under certain circumstances produce undesirable effects, some life threatening. Additionally, herbal supplements can sometimes create surgical problems. Even herbs that are generally considered safe can cause adverse reactions in certain instances, like anesthesia interaction or other medicines used in surgery.

Large doses of herbs can also be dangerous. Many herbs have drug-like effects on the body, and chemical component strength can vary depending on a number of different factors, including growing conditions, plant genetic, harvesting methods, processing, and packaging. Contamination can also occur during production.

Before using any herbal supplement.

  1. Check with your doctor, especially before any surgical procedure. Your doctor can also tell you if there is a potential drug interaction, and can advise you as to the safety of the herbal supplement. If you are pregnant, nursing a baby, elderly, or have a chronic medical condition, your doctor can advise you as to the supplement’s safety, and tell you about any possible problems or risks. NEVER replace your prescription medication with an herbal supplement unless you have first consulted with your physician.
  2. Check with your doctor about drug interaction. Combining supplements or using supplements together with prescription or OTC medicines can produce harmful – even dangerous – effects. Don’t take them until your doctor has okayed them.
  3. Do not take larger than recommended doses of supplements.
  4. Avoid long-term use of herbal supplements.
  5. Do plenty of research about the herbal supplement you are considering using before you use it.
  6. Be very, very skeptical about claims that sound too good to be true. If the claims sound exaggerated or unrealistic, chances are good that they are. No matter how good they claim to be, question, question, research, research. Never blindly accept advertising hype.
  7. Remember that just because a product says it’s “natural” doesn’t mean that it’s healthful and safe. Many herbal supplements claim to be natural in hopes that you will believe them to be more beneficial. This is not necessarily true. Again, be cautious and check with your doctor before you take any herbal supplement.

The information contained on this page has been taken from a public education series brochure written by the North American Spine Society.


The information herein is selective and does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects, or interactions of herbal supplements. If you have any questions, contact your healthcare provider for more information. This is for general information and understanding only and is not intended to represent official policy of the North American Spine Society. Please consult your healthcare provider for specific information about your condition.

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