Herbs and supplements

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Choosing safe products

Not all "natural" medicines are created equal. In fact, some are not natural at all. Learn to tell the difference between safe supplements and potentially dangerous products with these tips.

Where you buy matters

The best place to buy herbs and supplements is from a pharmacy that you trust. Many Kaiser Permanente pharmacies carry over-the-counter supplements that have been reviewed for their safety, effectiveness, and quality.

You may find a great deal on herbs and supplements online. But the product information might not be accurate, and it's impossible to know whether what you think you are buying is what's really in the bottle.

Learn how to tell if a website is trustworthy. 

Do your research

Before you take any herb or supplement, check out our research, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative MedicineKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites., or the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)Kaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites. to find out about:  

  • product alerts
  • drug interactions
  • harmful side effects
  • recalls
  • public health advisories

Look up herbs and supplements in the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database® for reliable, up-to-date information on safety and effectiveness.

Read the label

Many herbal products claim to be "all natural." But a "natural" claim may mean only a small amount of the product is from a natural source. An ingredient that is "natural" is often much more expensive than the same ingredient that is made in a lab, even though it isn’t any safer or more effective.

Look for the "seal of approval" from the US Pharmacopoeia (USP) verification program. This seal means the herb or supplement was produced according to strict manufacturing standards.

An expiration date is another way to tell that the manufacturer practices good quality control. See if there is an expiration date on the package, and be sure the date is far enough into the future that you can finish the product before it expires.

The word "standardized" on a product label is not a guarantee of product quality. In the United States there is no legal definition of "standardized" (or "certified" or "verified") for supplements. Most vitamins and minerals are the exception, and must meet USP standards.

Remember, a label cannot claim to treat or prevent any health condition. Any label that states this is misleading.

If you have a question about using an herb, vitamin, or other dietary supplement, check out our Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database or you can ask one of our online pharmacists.

Reviewed by: Paul Millea, MD, October, 2015

© 2015 Kaiser Permanente

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