About one-third of adult Americans report using some form of alternative medicine. Herbal and dietary supplements comprise a large percentage of this use. In the United States, more then $5 billion was spent on herbal and dietary supplements in 2009.
Supplement manufacturers make many claims about their products and it is not always easy for patients to check on the truthfulness of these claims. It’s important for you to know that these products are not subject to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) requirements for safety, efficacy or content. For many of these products, there has been little or no scientific research on effectiveness or safety.
You should also know that supplements, herbal products and other over-the-counter medications can interact harmfully with each other and with prescription medications you are taking. Before taking any over-the-counter medications you should check with your pharmacist or doctor. You can also check interactions online with the Medscape Drug Interaction Checker.
There are some websites that you can visit to learn more about specific supplements. For information about specific brand name supplements try the Dietary Supplements Labels Database. The Dietary Supplements Labels Database is a product of the National Institutes of Health and offers information about ingredients in more than 2000 selected brands of dietary supplements. It enables users to determine what ingredients are in specific brands and to compare ingredients in different brands. Information is also provided on the health benefits claimed by manufacturers.
For information on the individual components that go into commercial supplements, go to the Office of Dietary Supplements, also from the National Institutes of Health. Go to the “Health Information” section for information on supplement use and safety, daily allowance guidelines and search for scientific studies of herbs and supplements
For information on all types of alternative and complementary therapies, from acupuncture to Coenzyme Q10, go to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
If you come to the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center to do your research, you can use Natural Standard, an international research collaboration that systematically reviews scientific evidence on complementary and alternative medicine. Natural Standard is by subscription only and can be accessed at the Resource Center.
Remember, when you meet with your health care provider it is very important that you tell him or her about any supplements, vitamins or minerals you take, as well as any other over-the-counter medications.
If you need help finding health information, contact the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Our phone number is 802-847-8821 and our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are open Monday through Thursday, 9 am-5:30 pm and Friday, 9 am-5 pm. We are located on the 3rd Level of the Main Pavilion of the Ambulatory Care Center on the Medical center Campus.
Alan Lampson, M.L.S., CHIS, is a medical librarian and is lead of the Frymoyer Community Health Resource Center at the UVM Medical Center.