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Resources to learn about herbal supplements
February 24, 2014 8:38 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in learning more about alternative medicine, herbal supplements especially, and I'm looking for any great websites/forums/blogs on this topic. Books are okay too, but I'd really prefer to speak with real people who have tried stuff. There seem to be a lot of outrageous claims about some of these supplements, and I'm trying to get the truth. Thank you.
posted by madonna of the unloved to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have found the site examine.com to be very useful for this kind of thing. They really provide a lot of good data.
posted by beisny at 8:52 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]


I like this display of claims and research aboutsuppliments. This site shows the current research data, how confident in an effect they have and a link to a study showing the info.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:55 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


webmd.com is a great resource - it explains many supplements, links to any studies done, and lists doses and contraindications.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:07 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


drweil.com has info on many of the more common supplements. Though it's often brief his thoughts are always intelligent and well thought out. He has a true understanding of health and interprets studies intelligently. Also, it helps to search for the herb in question on his site (in the search box) since there are often articles with more info about the herb beyond the herb's specific page. Whenever I become curious about any herb his site is the first I go to to hear what he has to say.

I also highly recommend all the articles on Michael Tierra's or Leslie Tierra's blog. They are both herbalists and have lengthy and fascinating articles posted on their blog ranging on ayurvedic, TCM, and western herbs. Michael Tierra's books are also excellent.
posted by Blitz at 9:16 PM on February 24


I have Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, which is really good and seems competently researched. And, importantly, is skeptical and cautionary when it matters.

Which is important, because there's way too much uncritical herbal woo out there.

I believe the book may have been updated into: Rhodale's 21st Century Herbal.

It's probably very solid.

I also recommend doing Google Scholar searches on health stuff. You get less woo, less fluff, and more stuff like "Veno-occlusive disease of the liver secondary to ingestion of comfrey".
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:59 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


University of Maryland Medical Center Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide

I used to reference the above when I was into nutritional supplements. I thought it was easy to use, concise, and well-referenced.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:59 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]


Quackwatch has a now dated but still useful overview of how to avoid being lied to.

Paul Offit, MD, wrote a nice OP Ed in the NY Times recently too.

You do realize that the vast majority of dietary supplements have either been proven not to be effective for their claimed purposes, or have not been proved to be more than a placebo, right? That the supplement industry is functionally unregulated and can make any claims it wants based on anecdotes and speculation? That study after study has shown most supplements don't contain what they claim to, or contain potentially dangerous adulterants?

The fad for scientific evaluation of "complementary" use of supplements is ending. The money is drying up as none of the big studies and new centers funded by NIMH in the 90s (under Republican pressure, because the supplement industry contributes huge amounts to republicans who help them remain unregulated) and NIH have shown what acolytes hoped they would, including charlatans like Weil and Oz, getting rich off scientific ignorance and pop fads.

Looking specifically for anecdotal evidence is playing into the hands of the con artists who run this multi billion dollar industry. That's what they hope you will do because they can manufacture testimonials all day long.

Look for peer reviewed clinical trials. You will find nothing of much interest, with a few promising exceptions.
posted by spitbull at 4:06 AM on February 25 [10 favorites]


bottlebrushtree: "I like this display of claims and research about suppliments. This site shows the current research data, how confident in an effect they have and a link to a study showing the info."

I really liked this too, until I was sick with a cold, and so obviously I started taking zinc, because wow, look how high up on that chart it is! It's the highest!

Then I googled it, and it turns out that a number of reputable sites (mayoclinic, webmd) say that the results are inconclusive. They also don't recommend zinc for colds because of the high incidence of side effects, including permanent loss of smell. Yikes.

My point is, even with neat tools like that above graph, you should definitely take it upon yourself to search for various sources, and don't just trust one study or one website as the end-all be-all.
posted by Grither at 5:06 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


Tacking on to what Spitbull and Grither have said, you should really look at peer-reviewed studies for the truth as opposed to "real people who have tried stuff" because personal anecdota, while it may demonstrate someone's actual results in taking stuff, the results may not be typical or they may be due to something else in the unregulated herbal supplements.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:22 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


drweil.com...his thoughts are always intelligent

This is not a widely accepted view of Weil and I would vote against that as a "great website."
posted by kmennie at 7:05 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


New York Times also published a good article about a study showing that most herbal supplements are often extremely shady about their ingredients. The article has lots of good links to additional studies and sources on herbal supplement research.

Of 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place.

Unlike pharmaceuticals, herbal supplements do not have to undergo any kind of FDA approval or testing so there is no way to know what you are taking.
posted by forkisbetter at 7:12 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


Not only is Weil an anti-science advocate of quackery, he makes his money selling what he's peddling. I wouldn't count on objective data from such an obvious conflict of interest.
posted by kjs3 at 7:54 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I like The People's Pharmacy. They're not comprehensive, but they're current.

The absolute best resource is likely a physician who prescribes this stuff. Some states license naturopaths (4 year doctorate degree in the US) and some MDs practice with herbs.
posted by faethverity at 8:05 AM on February 25


I would always be suspicious of anyone that sells what they recommend (full disclose, I run Examine.com)
posted by SoloX at 9:22 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


Try earthclinic. You may also want to pick up a copy of Thomas Bartram's encyclopedia. (Not sure if he's known outside of the UK or not...)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:39 AM on February 25


The "naturopath" doctorate is not standardized in the US -- at ALL. It can be a 4 year program like Bastyr. It can be a mail order certificate from a Bible College, and many of them are. Do not simply trust the initials "N.D." after a name. The majority of NDs I've ever encountered have no significant primary scientific education. It is often a pure vanity title and it can be purchased online.
posted by spitbull at 11:36 AM on February 25 [4 favorites]


What forkisbetter says is critical. Even if you do good research and have reason to believe dried banana blossom will help your condition, you'll still have to find a product that contains the chemicals you seek and does not also contain something that may be harmful or that will react badly with your current meds.

The current state of supplement sales in the US will make this difficult.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:57 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


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