Dietary Supplements – Herbals




Plants provide us with most nutrients essential for life. Other than essential nutrients, plant foods contain naturally occurring substances, referred to respectively as phytochemicals. Herbals, which are derived from leaves, bark, berries, roots, gums, seeds, stems or flowers of plants, also contain numerous phytochemicals thought to have nutritive or medicinal value. Herbs have been used as medicine throughout history. Winslow and Kroll  reported the earliest evidence of human use of plants for healing dates back to the Neanderthal period, and today various modern medicines may be classified as herbals. Thus, herbals are regulated as medicine in some countries, such as Germany, but as dietary supplements in others. Currently in the United States most herbals are regulated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), more like food ingredients than drugs. However, given the pharmacological effect of various herbals, some health professionals are emphasizing the need for regulations standardizing herbal therapy.

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Herbals are popular dietary supplements. In the most recent NHANES report, approximately 7 percent of the U. S. population takes herbal or botanical dietary supplements. Athletes also take herbal supplements. For example, Herbold and others reported that 17 percent of female collegiate athletes used herbal/botanical supplements. Herbal dietary supplements are marketed to physically active individuals for a variety of reasons, including increasing energy, inducing weight loss, promoting muscle growth, or inducing other physiological or metabolic responses that may enhance exercise performance. For example, the product SportPharm contains multiple herbals, including Thermadrene, Ma Huang, Guarana, Caffeine, Purple Willow Bark, Cayenne pepper, and Ginger root, and is designed to increase mental alertness, stimulate fat-burning metabolism, and help enhance physical performance. Some sports drinks and sports bars contain herbals as well.

Numerous herbal supplements are marketed as ergogenic aids for athletes. Although ginseng has received some considerable research attention, there is a dearth of well-controlled research evaluating the efficacy of purported herbal ergogenics on human exercise or sport performance. Much of our knowledge concerning the efficacy of these herbal ergogenics is anecdotal in nature, and much of the earlier research that is available suffers from methodological problems such as poor research design and use of a variety of substances where the purity and content are often suspect. Future research efforts require careful attention to experimental design, product purity, standardized dosages, subject compliance, and statistical power.

From a health viewpoint, many contemporary herbal medicines have survived for centuries because they are believed to have therapeutic medicinal (although not ergogenic) value applicable to physically active individuals. However, a recent survey by the Consumers Union suggests most well-known, heavily promoted herbal treatments may not be very effective. Moreover, many may not be safe and may have some serious side effects, particularly when used in excessive amounts or when combined with other herbs or drugs. Commercially-available herbal preparations also may contain proscribed pharmacological agents, such as anabolic steroids, which may lead to positive doping tests. Thus, physically active individuals who desire to use herbal supplements should consult appropriate healthcare professionals beforehand because not all herbal supplements are safe or permitted for use in sport.




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