Rockville, Md.The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), an organization of technical and scientific experts that develop quality standards for medicines and their ingredients, food ingredients, dietary supplements, and herbal medicines, has recommended that consumers consider the quality and drug interactions of herbal products.
“Consumers often assume, incorrectly, that they do not need to worry because herbal products are ‘natural’ and that equals ‘safe’," said Gabriel Giancaspro, Ph.D., vice president for foods, dietary supplements and herbal medicines at USP. “Many herbal products may interact with other medications, increasing or decreasing their effect or causing adverse effects. Some toxic plants may be easily confused with those known to be safe, highlighting the importance of identity standards. In addition, purity standards are important to avoid contamination with microorganisms and toxic substances such as heavy metals. Variability in plant origin, source conditions and processing practices greatly impact overall quality."
Data from a recent study from the Military Nutrition Division of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) indicates that as many as one in three adults in the United States take dietary supplements in combination with prescription drugs. USP urges consumers to always consult with their physicians on the use of herbal products and their potential side effects when combined with other medicines.
Another thing consumers need to remember is that the United States does not have specific regulation for herbal or traditional medicines. Products that include a claim to treat or cure a disease are considered a drug by FDA, but only a few herbal medicines have gone through the stringent process for drug approval. In most cases, herbal products are sold as dietary supplements or food ingredients, which do not require the same approval process.
“Public standards for quality of dietary supplements are not mandated, so the quality of herbal products sold as dietary supplements may vary significantly from one manufacturer to another," said Giancaspro. “Identity, purity and content standards such as the ones set by USP establish a common ground for quality of dietary supplements, but these should not to be confused with standards for safety or efficacy."
For more information on USP’s quality standards for dietary supplements, visit: www.usp.org/dietary-supplements/dietary-supplements-compendium