You may find your health-coaching patients asking you about taking herbal and dietary supplements more often these days. As they continue on their quest to improve their health, it’s likely they’ll want to experiment with more “natural” therapies. I personally always approach herbal and dietary supplements with an open and curious mind. But as trusted healthcare professionals, it’s our duty to make sure our patients are taking a safe combination. Herbals have tremendous healing potential but they’re also potent substances that should be respected as such.When patients ask for your opinion on a product, it’s also an opportunity review any medical conditions, concurrent medications, and other supplements before they start a new product. Some herbals, including the three G’s (ginger, gingko, and ginseng), are notorious for serious drug interactions. But by comparison to prescription medications, the potential harm from taking herbal and dietary supplements is significantly smaller. I saw a list once by Dr. Jim Duke, PhD, former head of the USDA’s botanical division, comparing the use of herbs with other possible causes of death. The scorecard read 1 in 1,000,000 for herbs and 1 in 333 for western medicines.
Herbals are often composed of many active healing constituents, so it’s not easy to trace reactions to one ingredient. Many times the media or even medical experts may paint a negative picture of these products. Be careful of reports that make conclusions based on flawed or incomplete scientific research, base claims of toxicity on single parts of herbs (ignoring the safer and more commonly used part of the herb), or use cases of overdose or misuse. When helping patients select an herbal or dietary supplement, look for reputable companies that source quality raw materials and adhere to good manufacturing processes.