An herb is a plant or plant part used for its scent, flavor, or therapeutic properties. Herbal medicines are one type of dietary supplement. They are sold as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts, and fresh or dried plants. People use herbal medicines to try to maintain or improve their health.
Many people believe that products labeled “natural” are always safe and good for them. This is not necessarily true. Herbal medicines do not have to go through the testing that drugs do. Some herbs, such as comfrey and ephedra, can cause serious harm. Some herbs can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines.
If you are thinking about using an herbal medicine, first get information on it from reliable sources. Make sure to tell your health care provider about any herbal medicines you are taking.
Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, herbs, and many other products. They can come as pills, capsules, powders, drinks, and energy bars. Supplements do not have to go through the testing that drugs do.
Some supplements can play an important role in health. For example, calcium and vitamin D are important for keeping bones strong. Pregnant women can take the vitamin folic acid to prevent certain birth defects in their babies.
To take a supplement as safely as possible
- Tell your health care provider about any dietary supplements you use
- Do not take a bigger dose than the label recommends
- Check with your health care provider about the supplements you take if you are going to have any type of surgery
- Read trustworthy information about the supplement.
Vitamins are substances that your body needs to grow and develop normally. There are 13 vitamins your body needs. They are
- Vitamin A
- B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
You can usually get all your vitamins from the foods you eat. Your body can also make vitamins D and K. People who eat a vegetarian diet may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Each vitamin has specific jobs. If you have low levels of certain vitamins, you may get health problems. For example, if you don’t get enough vitamin C, you could become anemic. Some vitamins may help prevent medical problems. Vitamin A prevents night blindness.
The best way to get enough vitamins is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods. In some cases, you may need to take vitamin supplements. It’s a good idea to ask your health care provider first. High doses of some vitamins can cause problems.
Minerals are important for your body to stay healthy. Your body uses minerals for many different jobs, including keeping your bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly. Minerals are also important for making enzymes and hormones.
There are two kinds of minerals: macro minerals and trace minerals. You need larger amounts of macro minerals. They include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. You only need small amounts of trace minerals. They include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.
Most people get the amount of minerals they need by eating a wide variety of foods. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a mineral supplement. People who have certain health problems or take some medicines may need to get less of one of the minerals. For example, people with chronic kidney disease need to limit foods that are high in potassium.