The World of Natural Supplements: What are They and Why Do We Consume Them?

The World of Natural Supplements: What are They and Why Do We Consume Them?

There's a bit of confusion in the natural supplement world. Namely, what exactly are they? Simply put, natural supplements consist of multivitamin tablets, minerals, amino acids, and herbs. Herbal teas are also considered natural dietary supplements. Natural supplements include pre- and post-workout supplements and protein shakes for exercise. People take natural supplements for health-related reasons, believing they will offer health benefits.

Natural supplements are available for sale over the counter at your local pharmacy. They are also available at grocery or health food stores, or online without a prescription. Dietary supplements are not considered “drugs” by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many dietary supplements are also considered natural supplements. The FDA will take action against anyone that mislabels or tampers with supplements. 

And yet, the FDA does treat natural supplements like “food items.” Natural supplements are not a substitute for a healthy balanced diet. 

Natural dietary supplements are “food items,” and food impacts our bodies. Some foods do not agree with certain people. For example food that contains gluten may harm those with gluten intolerance. Like food, natural supplements will also impact health and well-being. Not every person will respond to the same dietary supplement in the same way.

Natural supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA the same way prescription drugs are. In fact, some supplements make health claims that are false. In some cases, dietary supplements may claim the product contains inaccurate doses. Some doses are too small to offer any health benefits. That means that even if a natural herb is found to be therapeutic, if the dose is not large enough, the supplement will not be helpful. Dietary supplements are not regulated with as strict parameters as prescription drugs are. 

Natural supplements cannot make claims of diagnoses, cures, treatments, or disease prevention. The FDA allows natural supplements to claim they may contribute to health and well-being.

Always check how you feel before, during and after you take any natural supplements. You may want to keep a journal and note changes to your well-being. Check with your doctor before you take products labeled as a natural supplement.

 

Five Reasons People Take Natural Supplements 

People take natural supplements for good reason. Here we list five common reasons people take natural supplements:

1. People believe natural supplements will improve their health in a holistic way. We sometimes see our ancestors as being wise and knowing much more so than us, their modern descendants. Many people worry we have lost touch with ancestral knowledge of herbs and their natural healing properties. 
2. Big pharma makes people nervous. Many of us have grown leery of how powerful large pharmaceutical companies have become. Not everyone has access to prescriptions or the means to afford them. Medical coverage can be costly or bothersome. And not everyone believes their doctor has their best interests in mind. People want to trust that taking natural dietary supplements are more “natural.”  Many would rather self diagnose than see a doctor to get a prescription. 
3. Some of us want the privacy of being able to heal our symptoms naturally. Finding natural solutions to physical issues is empowering. It is encouraging to take natural supplements that make you feel well and healthy. It can make you feel better if you are taking a natural supplement. It can be intimidating to rely on synthetic chemicals.
4. Discovering a natural supplement company that produces high quality products is encouraging. Not all natural supplement companies have integrity. However, a natural supplement company that has integrity and is consistent is encouraging. This gives the power back to the people and puts their health in their own hands. 
5. Many people take natural supplements because they want to make decisions about their own health. Understanding what natural supplements to take to boost your health is important. Finding the right supplements can help you on your journey to holistic health. Your body chemistry is individual to you so it is important to educate yourself.

What Makes Herbs and Herbal Supplements so Important to Your Wellbeing?

Many people are curious about natural supplements and herbs for health and well-being. Herbal remedies have been around for millennia. Herbs not only contribute to a healthy diet, they are the spice of life, and used in cuisines from around the world. Herbs bring a unique flavor to those with a distinguished palate. 

What herbs are not only delicious, in teas, salads, and even baked on pizza, but are full of health benefits? You may have heard of fresh herbs like mint, basil, and chamomile. These herbs also have therapeutic properties. Mint for indigestion, basil for kidney problems, and chamomile for anxiety. 

Humans use the potent "active ingredients" in herbs for health reasons. Humans have known how to use herbs for thousands of years. Some herbs are the basis for some of today's common medicines. 

One such herb is white willow bark. Researchers have identified and isolated the properties in willow bark that relieve fever. They used that knowledge to create a synthetic derivative that is sold over the counter best known as aspirin.  

Herbs and herbal remedies are common to specific regions around the world. People who are indigenous to these areas are familiar with traditional herbal remedies. There are many traditions surrounding herbal remedies for thousands of years. This is called "traditional medicine." 

Traditional medicine consists of the knowledge, practice, and skills in a specific culture believed to maintain health. Most often, traditional medicine includes knowledge of herbs as remedies. Some of these herbal remedies have shown to have more health benefits than others.  In western modernized cultures, traditional medicine is complementary or alternative medicine (CAM).

Four World Regions with Interesting Herbal Traditions

There are four main world regions that have interesting traditions using herbs and herbal remedies. These is also emerging research in this field, as well:

  • South America: In South America, countries like Peru are rich in forest and exotic flora. Many South Americans understand that herbal medicine is important to their economy. South American shamans are especially sensitive to plants and their “magical” uses.
  • Africa: In many parts of rural Africa, traditional healers offer herbs as therapy. Indigenous herbs are the most accessible and affordable resources available to local populations. And often the only resources for hundreds of miles. Research in alternative medicine shows the use of the whole plant is more beneficial. It is better to use the whole plant than to isolate individual properties from the plant. This is called “whole-plant synergy.” In the research, many of these plants indigenous to African tribes are anti-bacterial. Many are also anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and are natural diuretics, etc.
  • China: In east Asian countries like Japan and China, contemporary medicine is available. Successes in Chinese medicine using herbal remedies is gaining respect in the west. Some traditional Chinese medicine is shaping the way the west views natural therapies. These remedies are showing a lot of positive results in the research.
  • India: Ayurveda is an ancient system of complementary and comprehensive traditional medicine. This scientific medicinal system is indigenous to India. The word Ayurveda means ‘knowledge of life.’ "Ayurveda" comprises two Sanskrit words, Ayu (life) and Veda (knowledge or science). Many herbs found in the traditional Indian texts have important healing properties. The FDA calls these herbs, “new drugs.” Since they are only recently being researched for their efficacy. 

Traditional medicine from different world regions help us understand our ancestors. Our ancestors did have a deep understanding about herbs as natural medicine. Natural herbs have great potential as medicine.  

Modern people who understand traditional medicine can help us see how important herbs are today. This traditional knowledge and science supports what our ancestors have known all along.

Plant Medicine and the Emerging Science of What Some Humans Have Known All Along

Plant medicines are gaining more respect in western society. Research into Ayurvedic plant medicine has taken an important turn. Recent research shows ayurvedic plant medicines have many health benefits.

Traditional plant medicines are key components of Ayurveda. Practitioners of these traditional therapies use ayurvedic plant medicine to "cleanse" the body. Plant medicine is also used to help prevent disease, and keep the mind, body, and spirit in balance.

A basic principle of Ayurvedic medicine is for preventative health. In the west, we often respond to disease as opposed to prevent illness. Ayurvedic medicine teaches maintaining a balance between your mind, body, and environment.

Common Ayurvedic plant medicines are rarely prescribed on their own. They are part of a holistic approach to physical and spiritual health and activity. This prescribed physical and spiritual health regimen usually includes the practice of yoga.

Plant medicine is part of a holistic regimen. Ayurvedic practitioners also use therapeutic oils and spices. This regimen promotes well-being along with implementing massage and aromatherapy.  

One of the most important plant medicines used in Ayurvedic tradition is Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is a Sattvic Kapha Rasayana, used by ancient practitioners. Ashwagandha was first believed to promote happiness and youthfulness.

  • Ashwagandha has a long history of use proven to have several health-promoting effects. These effects include increased energy, a faster metabolism. An improved overall physical and joint health are also reported. Ashwagandha also helps promote a reduced stress response. The active ingredients found in this herb are a group of natural compounds, withanolide glycosides.
  • Turmeric is another herb considered to be a plant medicine. Turmeric is a common ingredient found in Indian and southeast Asian foods like curry. Curcumin is a product of turmeric and gives the plant its yellow color. Curcumin reduces oxidation caused by inflammation. Research suggests it even “scavenges or neutralizes free radicals.” 

There exists approximately 600 holistic formulas and 250 single plants in Ayurvedic medicine. These plant medicines are usually categorized according to the type of usage required. Some of these are therapies for discomfort relief or increased vitality.

Studies suggest some Ayurvedic herbs may be beneficial to human health. Others show that results are inconclusive as to their administration, and dosage, etc.

Mother Nature or Science: Are Synthetic Drugs the Answer?

Are synthetic drugs more or less effective than plant based compounds? There is no doubt that synthetic drugs have their place in medicine. It would be absurd to not acknowledge the hard work done by doctors and researchers to cure and treat conditions that traditional medicine cannot. However, there is significant research being done to determine the efficacy of traditional medicine and the ingredients that make supplements today.  

There does need to be regulation in the dietary and natural supplement industries. Businesses and corporations that produce our plant medicines create high quality products. These companies should have integrity so that society can truly benefit the most.