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Medicinal herbs

Herbal Consumers Show Need for a New Kind of Consumer Education

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 by: Kal Sellers
Tags: medicinal herbs, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Nedra Alleman of Afton, Wyoming came up to me holding a bag of supplements that must have weighed three or four pounds. She was not selling me anything, rather she was asking me which of these I would use or recommend.

One by one I went through the bag. Like every natural healer, I have a standard that I adhere to. I have decided what my beliefs are and I only use supplements that meet my criteria. Nedra was just one of literally dozens of people who have approached me over the last year about their supplements. "Which should I use?", "Which are the best?", and "Should I use this, or throw it away?" are some of the common questions I receive.

I have learned to be cautious in my response. I tell them what my standard is and how I feel about each supplement but I only really tell them to throw out the ones that have something in it I believe to really impede good health. I also tell them what supplements I might use instead that would yield similar results without the questionable ingredients.

This problem is far from isolated or new. Actually, since supplements began to be sold as a package in ancient China, a science called “Alchemy” was used to “enhance” nature’s medicines. Bone meal, animal blood, mineral deposits, ground metals, fibrous fillers, along with a whole art and science of manipulating the ingredients with fermentation and heat might show up in your “herbal” supplement and medicine.

Today, we are not much different from ancient (and modern) China. True, you probably will not find bone meal in your herbs, although you might.

When you go to the health food store today, you will find that out of 60 dry supplement products (meaning not liquid) that appear to be herbal (meaning that they have herbs pictured, described, labeled or otherwise advertised on the label), only about 15 are truly plant derived.

Out of 45 herbal supplements commonly sold, about 7 will be plant based (with fillers that are cellulose or millet or rice flour, etc.); about 25 will be laden with preservatives of all types and the remaining 13 are filled with extra stuff that may include preservatives but also includes refined vitamins, minerals, chemicals, amino acids, isolated plant constituents, etc. One of that thirteen will have no whole herbs at all in it, but will only contain some isolated chemical derivative of an herb combined with other isolated nutrients - in other word, they are drugs in herb clothing.

From the list of herbal products in any given herb store, you will find two brands that are consistently herbs only. This will be Wholistic Botanicals (who makes Dr. Christopher Original Formulas) and Nature’s Sunshine. Many brands promoting themselves to be “pure and natural” in fact are neither.

I wanted to discover if this variation in quality was perceived by the herb consumers. I went to the Herb and Vitamin Depot in Hiram, GA to find out.

The kind woman there who spoke with me shared that when customers come in who want a specific standard (i.e. just herbs in a specific milligram quantity), they are the ones who are already somewhat educated in identifying herbal quality and will know what they want. When someone does not know what to get, she usually turns to manufacturer information on various products or to products that she, herself, has gotten good results from to help them decide.

As far as the purity of herbal supplements, the store clerk had very little to say except that they would at least be pharmaceutical grade, meaning that they were free from dangerous impurities. This is a very important customer safety issue, to be sure. She had nothing at all to say about customers coming in with questions about the “other stuff” in “herbal” supplements. Apparently, this is not well enough understood to even draw a question.

The question arises then, does there need to be education on the subject of content or should we just turn to manufacturer statements to determine the usefulness or validity of the products we use?

Of course, the history of that also brought us a very benign sounding product extracted from asparagus, known as aspartame. This miracle sweetener filled health food stores not very long ago as a natural sugar free supplement. The manufacturers certainly had plenty good to say about the product and its value.

So, can we really trust manufacturers or research panels for that kind of labeling?

I approached Traci, of Traci’s LLC, who also recently published Traci’s Transformational Health Principles and who is a strong voice for defining “natural” in a way that protects people. I asked her what her standard was for natural and she told me about a concept in her book called the “natural food filter.”

Traci’s definition of natural is longer than we can cover here, but it revolves around one basic idea: “Something that is truly natural is condoned by nature, meaning nature provides it to us freely and it can be reproduced without the aid of anything that is not found in nature.”

To David Christopher, President of the School of Natural Healing, the oldest licensed herbal college in the United States, “…natural means: ‘as nature intended.’”

So I decided to pose a few thinking questions for you, the consumer:

  1. Do you have a standard for natural, or must it only be in a health food store?

  2. How do you define natural?

  3. What supplements are the best and how do you know?

  4. Which supplements fit your philosophy of health (assuming you have a philosophy of health)?

  5. Why do certain supplements fit your philosophy while others do not?

The issue today is certainly not one of what is right or wrong, good or bad, but rather one of: what do you want and why do you want it?

This bit of consumer education is wholly or mostly absent today.

Consumers instead tend to jump from supplement to supplement, having, as Nedra did, almost a suitcase full of supplements, not sure what to use or throw out.

In other words, would you even know if a new product on the market fit your philosophy and what it would cost you to find out? In the case of Aspartame, some consumers were actually crippled because of it and some appear to have developed brain tumors as a result of it. That is a high cost, and yet Aspartame was developed from Asparagus, a natural and healthy food!

This highlights the need for more consumer education that will help them to decide what products they will accept as “herbal” or “natural” and what they will reject.

Many ingredients in a supplement may actually be “natural”, other things may simply come from nature at some point but may not resemble that form anymore.

In an effort to help out with this lacking education among the general public, Aubrey Organics has produced a “Natural Ingredients Dictionary” which they will supply to you for free, in hopes, (I am sure) that you will find their products acceptable once you know what they contain and what those words really mean. I, for one, use Aubrey Organics products myself.

Far more education on the function of different ingredients is needed:

Which preservatives are inert in the body and which ones actually inhibit enzymatic activity in the body as they do in the product? Which fillers are helping and which are merely clutter, diluting an otherwise good product? Which isolated nutrients benefit your body and which, like petroleum-based ascorbic acid, actually increase the rate of tumor growth?

These are questions needing answers. I believe that these questions are important if the consumer is to protect him or herself from everything from wasted money, to weak results, to really toxic ingredients that appeared okay at first. There are a few natural healing schools around today that work to spread this kind of education. I hope to see more materials emerge as the need for consumer health education becomes more apparent to teachers and consumers.

About the author

Kal Sellers, MH currently operates KalsSchool.com and teaches a 2-year curriculum for Natural Medicine, via live teleclasses.
Kal is a Master Herbalist and holds several other certificates and licenses for hands-on healing modalities. He maintains a current practice in the Atlanta area.
Kal and Traci have six children, the last four of which were delivered at home. They live now in Powder Springs, GA where they teach live classes on food and medicine. Kal is also a full time Chiropractic student.

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