Remedies and supplements find a home at Sunflower Farmers Market
Local health fair at Tucson neighborhood Sunflower Farmers Market offers information on vast array of dietary supplements.
Sunday, September 25, 2011 - 17:52
DIETARY LABELS: Herbal remedies can be good for consumers seeking products with quality certifications and herbal safety standards. (Photo: shannonkringen/Flickr)
Mixed messages on product labels often leave the herbal enthusiast wondering what type of vitamins and micronutrients, herbal extracts or other unidentified ingredients are found inside. With all the new homeopathic products on the market today, be prepared to read product label messages that seem too good to be true. It's not too uncommon for herbal manufacturers to misrepresent herbal products in marketing frenzies. During my most recent trip to the Tucson Sunflowers Farmers Market Health Fair, I came across a zillion dietary supplements with messages that promised preserving youth, fighting stress, gaining strength and so forth. Next time you find yourself in that situation, keep some of these helpful ideas in mind:
Double-check dietary labeling
One of the most common ways to determine if a product is legitimate is to check for seals of approval from national certification associations on the packaging or label. Herbal products that have been cleared by food safety processes that require national or state certifications ensure the quality of contents. Several of the products displayed at the Sunflower Farmers Health Fair had certifications, but many of them were questionable. Products that revealed quality inspections and certifications included: Garden of Life, Bluebonnet, Greens Organics, and Nordic Naturals. Other products that were sending mixed messages and not clearly label certified were Ola Loa, Avalon Organics, Peter Gillham's Natural Vitality, Kava Cool Complex and Ron Teeguarden's Dragon Herbs.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the ingredients listed on a label are to be found in the product and no medical claims can be made without scientific substantiation. Thus herbal products are generally labeled in tiny font with, "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease." So it's best to check additional information with any herbal product to prevent undesired side effects.
In some cases, herbal product manufacturers work with groups such as the American Botanical Garden, the Herb Research Foundation and the U.S. Pharmacopia to ensure quality of herbal products. These collaborations lessen the degree of risk and uncertainty related to illegitimate dietary supplements.
A useful tip is to check for certifications that include USDA organic or other intensive standards and guidelines used in certification processes. Products with content-specific messages such as "this product is manufactured from cows not treated with rBGH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone" or free of genetically modified organisms are great, but may not indicate the product was part of a certification process. In cases where the product does not indicate a certification by a national food safety council, it is best to learn as much as possible about the product through a certified professional herbalist, nutritionalist or dietician.
Herbal certification pros and cons
Messages with specific certifications and labeled intentions can inform you with more valuable information. A few of the messages I came across involved Certified Organic By Farmers, USDA clinically tested, GMP certified, certificate of analysis: 3rd Party tested certification for toxins, heavy metals, dioxins, and PCBs. EU cosmetics directive compliant. For creams and cosmetic products, labels should also provide information related to active and inactive ingredients, warnings and manufacturer contact information. A helpful note to keep in mind is that with the unknown side effects of some conventional medications, it may be less of a risk to use herbal remedies and less expensive for serious diseases.
Look for herbal remedy messages that indicate whether they are pro-organic; alcohol free; free of synthetic fragrances; phthalates, parabens or sulfates; cruelty free and biodegradable; lactose free; wheat and gluten free; pectin based; and free of ultra-fine nano-particles. Messages with clearly marked labels lead to better quality nutritional supplements that may pose less of a risk. Here are some examples of herbal product messages that should help raise a red flag if you're new to the herbal world:
• Products missing seals of approval
• Broken container seals
• Missing expiration dates
• "100% Natural"
• "No artificial colors preservatives or flavor"
• "Consciousness in cosmetics"
• "Clinically tested"
• "Keep out of reach of children"
• "If pregnant or breastfeeding, ask a health professional before use"
These types of messages on labels provide some of the important information needed but often leave the consumer uninformed as to the product content or type of certification review.
Nutritional health literature
Checking for up-to-date certifications and standards on labels is a great way to start being informed about herbal remedies, but reading up on the latest trends and findings in nutritional journals and magazines is also an important step.
At the health fair, there was a variety of books related to nutritional health and dietary remedies. One was Jordan Rubin's book "The Raw Truth," where the author provides a historical timeline of nutritional discovery by dietary innovators such as Ann Wigmore, Elie Metchnikoff, Mary Enig, Edward Howell, Richard Carmona, Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, Norman Walker, Bernarr Macfadden and many others.
These innovators discovered the importance of fiber, chlorophyll, enzymes, hydration and fatty acids in the diet as well as other remarkable discoveries. Another book I came across was Phyllis A. Bach's CNC "Prescription for Herbal Healing." It's a layperson's guide to using herbs to enhance health that provides information for choosing herbal treatments; herbal preparations that benefit specific organs, systems, and functions of the body; along with herbal formulas that can be used with nutritional supplements and prescription medications.
Checking labels, looking for certifications and staying aware of changing health trends will help you be a more informed consumer of homeopathic products. Consumers that seek information about herbal health care products may help improve industry standards and the production of high quality, standardized, and safe supplements and products.
Photos: Colleen Boodleman
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