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Supplements — both herbal and nonherbal — are popular among consumers, and many are basing their choices on information gleaned from the media and the Internet, which is not always accurate.
That’s why education is the No. 1 priority for Emil Faithe, PharmD, RPh, owner of Natural Pharmacy Consultants in Albuquerque, NM.
In his work, he counsels health care facilities about product lines and protocols for professional staff on how to implement and augment existing prescription regimens with natural supplements. Faithe works with people individually as well. "People want to know what is safe and what to take because headlines on magazines often announce the magic supplement. It all sounds good, and often when I see them, they have a bag of 20-30 supplements," says Faithe.
It is important for people to understand what the supplement is for and why they are taking it. They need to know if the supplement enhances a prescription medicine’s effects because serious health problems could develop if it does. For example, people shouldn’t take natural medicines or supplements that thin the blood while taking a prescription blood thinner, explains Faithe. Some supplements stimulate the immune system and can exacerbate symptoms of autoimmune disorders, he says.
When people want to use a natural medicine for a health problem, such as high blood pressure, instead of prescription medicine, Faithe suggests that they augment the prescription medicine with a supplement, slowly reducing the prescribed dosage until they are only taking the natural medicine. "We overlap these therapies with the hope of reducing their prescription medicine for that condition with their doctor’s approval," he says.
Another point that needs to be made is that natural does not always equate with safety because many consumers do equate the terms safe and natural. Natural medicines can have unhealthy interactions with prescription medicines and cause side effects that people need to be aware of, says Faithe.
Another mistake people make is to pick up herbal supplements, vitamins, and minerals along with the broccoli while shopping at the grocery store. "Many brands are loaded with fillers, additives, and colors and aren’t good choices or the potencies are much lower and the quality assurance standards are not known," says Faithe. For optimum results, people should purchase quality brands. He advises them to check the labels for fillers such as yeast, soy, dairy, wheat and corn additives. There should never be more than one filler and one binder, he says.
The natural medicine industry is poorly regulated and standardized, so it’s wise to speak to a knowledgeable person at a health food store before purchasing a product. Consumers can also contact the manufacturer and ask for their quality assurance reports. It is important that the producers of natural products have an outside agency do the evaluation; otherwise, they are creating their own standards and their own quality assurance checks. Also find out where they get their raw materials for the products and if these are of the purest quality, advises Faithe.
While many people look for natural medicines to heal them of ailments they have already developed, supplements can be used to prevent health problems. When Faithe speaks to groups, he often provides information on six supplements that he recommends for optimum health. These complement a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet, exercise, limited alcohol, and refraining from smoking or consuming foods with additives. "I want to make sure that when I talk about supplements, everyone knows that they are a supplement to good living, and that means getting as many nutrients as possible from quality foods," says Faithe.
The regular supplements recommended by Faithe include the following:
• A high-potency multiple vitamin.
This supplement should be high in the B vitamins and contain a good amount of vitamin A and E.
• Calcium and magnesium.
A supplement that combines these two minerals is a good combination, says Faithe. Most people are deficient in magnesium, yet this mineral is good for the neuromuscular system, he says.
This supplement helps to heal the gut and is a great immune stimulant. It is good for irritable bowel syndrome or food allergies and is the core of all his regimens, says Faithe.
• Flaxseed oil.
This oil is an immune modulator, says Faithe. If the immune system needs a boost, the oil provides it; or if the immune system is too active, it helps to regulate it. "If someone is going to take only one natural medicine, I would recommend flaxseed oil," he says.
• Broad-spectrum digestive enzyme.
A digestive enzyme helps to break down the foods that we eat and prevent such digestive problems as irritable bowel syndrome and food allergies, says Faithe.
• Milk thistle.
This is the only herb in his recommended regimen to prevent health problems. "I would say that 70% of what I use is nonherbal," says Faithe. This product keeps the liver in good health, he says.
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