National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

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Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Director's Page
Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Herbal Products: Be an Informed Consumer

June 12, 2013

As I mentioned in my January 2013 Director’s message, many visitors to the NCCAM website seek information about herbal products, such as evening primrose oil, St. John’s wort, fenugreek, echinacea, and aloe vera. And, while some herbs have had more research, others have had very little. This not only means we may be unaware of whether the herb has any potential benefits, it also means that we may know very little about potential harms, such as herb-drug interactions. This is particularly important if you are taking any prescription medications, because herbal products can change the body’s response to drugs. In fact, this area of research is of particular interest to NCCAM and we are working with our NIH colleagues and experts in the field to think about the best way to most effectively and efficiently identify and study herbs with a high potential for interactions—inhibiting or possibly increasing the effects of prescription medicines.

In the meantime, as we work to learn more about this important topic, I invite you to be a more informed consumer and take a look at our popular Herbs at a Glance series. This series provides entries for more than 45 herbs and botanicals and offers reliable information to help you learn what the science says, some potential side effects and cautions, and resources for more information. We have packaged this important information as a free, easy-to-navigate eBook that is available for download. And, our Web site has other resources that can help you be an informed consumer and learn more about the safety of herbal and dietary supplements. I also encourage you to talk with your health care provider about the effectiveness and possible risks of any natural product you are considering or are already using.

You can join us this Thursday, June 13, at 3:00 p.m. ET, on our Facebook page for our first Facebook Chat about what the science says about some popular herbs. NCCAM experts Drs. Craig Hopp and John Williamson will be on hand to answer your questions.

Take care, and as always, be well.

* Note: PDF files require a viewer such as the free Adobe Reader.