Herbal Supplements – What’s In a Label?

Herbal Supplements - What’s In a LabelHerbal supplements are a booming billion dollar business. But, while the folks in India and China have long relied on herbal experts to dispense herbs and treat their illnesses, when it comes to evaluating herbal supplements, Americans are largely on their own.

So, how can you tell if your herbal supplement Is effective, safe, and worth your money?

The good news is, you don’t have to be an expert in every herb to figure out which supplements are worth investing in. There are some clues right on the label that can help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

1. Look for vitamin supplements that contain natural vitamin sources. Synthetic vitamins will have hard-to-pronounce, scientific names, whereas natural vitamins will have names of foods you’ve actually heard of. Some examples:

Folic Acid
Natural: Vegetarian Yeast, Brewer’s Yeast, Blackstrap Molasses, Wheat Grass, Nuts
Synthetic: Pteroylglutamic Acid

Vitamin C
Natural: Citrus Fruit, Acerola Cherry
Synthetic: Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin E
Natural: Wheat Germ Oil, Rice Bran, Safflower Oil
Synthetic: Alpha Tocopherol,

In addition, choose a supplement with a detailed proprietary blend of whole food ingredients rather than a list of vitamin quantities.

2. Choose mineral supplements with chelated minerals as opposed to mineral salts, mineral oxides or mineral colloids. Chelated minerals are absorbed much better by the body, and are less likely to produce gastrointestinal upset. Suffixes to look for include:–chelate, chelavite, and orchelazome. Suffixes to avoid include: sulfate, carbonate, chloride and oxide.

3. When choosing an herbal supplement, look for varieties use the whole herb. While wading through your options, you’ll likely find a number of supplements that use “standardized extracts.” This term means that the whole herb is not being used: rather, the manufacturer has pulled out the part of the herb believed to be effective and discarded the rest. Herbal experts have long believed in the balance of ingredients in the whole herb, so it’s best to use a supplement that maintains its integrity, so to speak.

4. When it comes to enzyme supplements, choose plant-based enzymes rather than animal-based enzymes. Animal-based enzymes don’t stand up as well to the digestive process as plant enzymes, and they aren’t as effective. Plant enzymes include protease, lipase, amylase and peptidase.

5. Choose probiotic supplements with at least eight different strains of bacteria. The bacteria microflora should be listed by their Latin names, and there should be a count of how many live cultures are in each serving. The supplement should also include a whole food extract like onion or banana, which provide food for the bacteria and activate it. In addition, choose capsules over tablets, as they retain more of their active properties.