To those looking for a means of staying healthy that goes beyond that offered by prescription drug companies, natural remedies are a logical solution.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to determine the efficacy of a particular product just by looking at it, as the labeling of natural remedies is fraught with more confusing rules and regulations than the United States tax code (or at least it often seems that way).
Herbal remedies are caught in a strange catch-22 of competing goals. On the one hand, prescription drug makers are infuriated that these natural medications aren’t always bound by the same standards of proof that they are.
While a pharmaceutical medicine may need to go through years of development and trials that cost millions of dollars before hitting the market, a natural remedy is often under less scrutiny if it is labeled as a dietary supplement.
Of course, companies marketing such remedies argue that they’re not crazy about the “dietary supplement” label either, but they often cannot afford the high cost of testing and clinical trials needed for their products to be sold as drugs.
The result is a bizarre system where natural remedies are overtly marketed for one purpose but used by many customers for something completely different.
In the United States, among other nations, restrictions on herbal remedies are such that the only claims they can make are structure and function claims. A herbal product can purport to affect how a particular body part operates, but not that it can cure medical conditions.
A company that sells ginkgo, for example, cannot claim that it will fight the early onset of Alzheimer’s even if research indicates its effectiveness in that regard. If you want to use it for that purpose once you buy it, nobody will stop you, but explicitly mentioning Alzheimer’s on the packaging or in advertising is not permitted.
As dietary supplements, herbal remedy makers are required to follow good manufacturing practices. They must ensure that their medicines are produced in a way that guarantees product consistency and high quality standards.
Product labels have to feature the product name, company contact information, a list of ingredients, information on the serving size and a description of the active ingredient(s).
Even with that label, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is allowed to challenge any claim within 30 days. The FDA can also monitor safety once the product is on the market and then take action against the manufacturer if one of its products is proven to be unsafe.
There are also groups within the natural medicine industry that informally regulate each other. They make sure that everyone is following the same guidelines.
Because of the restrictions on labeling of natural remedies, it’s all but impossible to get information on efficacy at stores where they are sold. The responsibility to know what they may or may not do is put on the buyer’s shoulders.
For that reason, you really need to do some research of your own on an herbal medicine’s effects on various conditions before buying. The laws intended to protect consumers make obtaining correct information just that much more difficult.
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