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Good websites for evaluating herbs and supplements

17 years ago

The Internet has spawned a flood of information about herbs and dietary supplements, much of it from alternative practitioners and supplement sellers. The result is a confusing mass of claims and conflicting assertions.

I've found that the following sites are good starting points for evaluating the usefulness and safety of herbal drugs and supplements.

PubMed is the National Library of Medicine's database of scientific articles going all the way back to the 1950s. It's easy to use. You enter a term like black cohosh and get back a list of research publications that have mentioned the term. It's a good way to find out if a supplement has been studied, and what conclusions have been made about its usefulness and safety.

The National Center For Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the organization set up by the National Institutes of Health to investigate possible alternative drugs and treatments. They provide evaluations of many herbal products and explain how to judge whether a treatment is right for you.

The American Cancer Society has evaluated many of these products and has a searchable database, as well as articles summarizing the role of supplements and possible interactions with anticancer drugs.

Quackwatch* is a great resource on health fraud in general. There are many articles on alternative therapies and their practitioners, as well as an extensive searchable database.

The Berkeley Wellness Letter offers information about numerous herbal products (some of it is available only by subscription). has a section on alternative medicine and a good deal of useful information.

The FDA has up-to-date information on both mainstream and alternative drugs, including product recalls and legal action. It also has advice on selecting dietary supplements.

*It was requested in another thread in this forum that I answer questions that Richard (lundpix) had about Quackwatch. So here goes.

Richard stated that Dr. Barrett, the retired physician who runs the Quackwatch website "does not quote any peer-reviewed journal." Actually, peer-reviewed journals (the most reliable sources for published research) are cited frequently by Dr. Barrett and the numerous authors that contribute to Quackwatch. They are listed in the references at the end of a given article.

According to Richard, Quackwatch claims that if a site recommended using herbs, "you could tell it was a quack." This is obviously not the case, as Richard himself goes on to quote Dr. Barrett as stating that some herbs are useful.

Quackwatch is skeptical in general that sites marketing and selling supplements provide reliable information - and as links to such websites in the Herbalism forum have repeatedly shown, they do supply incorrect and misleading information.

As to what qualifications are necessary for exposing quackery - as far as I know, there is no university that grants a doctorate in this area. In the end, it's up to us to sort out hype and advertising scams from reliable evidence. Sites such as the ones listed above give us a good basis on which to continue our own investigations.

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