Factors to consider when choosing an alternative treatment or practitioner, plus links to resources for current information on safety reports and alerts.
The consumer resources presented on FRONTLINE's website are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. If you are thinking about taking an herbal supplement or seeking an alternative treatment for a medical condition, consult your physician first. Your doctor can help you weigh the options and decide which treatments are best-suited for you. Reading through this simple safety checklist may also help you to identify any additional red flags:
Look for reputable labels. Dietary supplement manufacturers are not required to do quality assurance testing, so what appears on the label may not be what is found in the pill. A recent ConsumerLab study of cholesterol-reducing supplements containing guggulsterones, policosanol or sterols found that half of the brands tested (8 out of 16) did not contain the ingredients listed on the label.
For more information, see the results of the study (a full report is available only to ConsumerLab subscribers) and a guide on how to read supplement labels from the Consumer League.
Anyone considering using alternative therapy or products such as supplements should consult a doctor first. You should use extra caution if:
You are a senior citizen and suffer from a serious medical condition such as severe allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, Parkinson's, etc. For more information, see this 2001 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office. It includes a table of common herbal supplements aimed at seniors and their known contraindications and interactions, and lists recent FDA actions against health products determined to be making illegal claims.
You have HIV/AIDS. Certain herbs, such as St. Johns Wort, have been shown to reduce the efficacy of AIDS medications. For more details, see the CDC's fact sheet on HIV and alternative therapies.