The difference between dietary and herbal supplements is one of intent.
There are special labeling requirements for dietary supplements and they are treated as foods, not drugs. Dietary supplements must be:
- is labeled as being a dietary supplement
- intended to be taken in tablet, capsule, powder, softgel, gelcap, liquid form
- is not represented for use as a conventional food, as a sole item of a meal or the diet
- a product intended to supplement the diet, which contains one or more of the following: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, or any combination
Since dietary supplements are regulated as foods, and not drugs, there may be quality issues in their manufacturing process. The use of the term Natural does not automatically mean safe or effective.
Supplements can interact with prescribed or over-the-counter medicines, and other supplements, so always ask your doctor before taking them.
Herbal supplements are a type of dietary supplement that contains plant or part of a plant used for its flavor, scent, or potential therapeutic properties. Many herbs have a long history of use and of claimed health benefits. Today, many intended use is for health purposes.
An herb (botanical) includes flowers, leaves, bark, fruit, seeds, stems, and roots, either individually or in mixtures.
It’s important to know that just because an herbal supplement is labeled natural does not mean it is safe or without any harmful effects. Take the examples or kava and comfrey, which have been linked to serious liver damage.
Herbal supplements can act in the same way as drugs, they can cause medical problems. In some cases, people have experienced negative effects despite following the instructions on the supplement’s label.
It is important to consult your health care provider before using an herbal supplement because some are known to interact with medications that cause health problems.
In the U.S., dietary and herbal supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as foods. What this essentially comes down to is that they do not have to meet the same standards as drugs and over-the-counter medications for proof of safety, effectiveness, and good manufacturing practices.
Supplement users need to be aware and take precautions, at least until science catches up!