Hoping to feel better, look younger, and prevent disease are reasons many of us, including our senior loved ones, take over-the-counter supplements.
Almost one in five adults use herbal supplements. Herbals can be dried, chopped, powdered, capsuled or liquid too and some are used as a lotion applied to the skin.
Nutritional supplements are sold to the tune of billions of dollars each year. In fact, Americans spent $21 billion on vitamins and herbal supplements in 2015.
Herbal supplements are products made from botanicals or plants that are touted to make us healthier. But are they safe — or effective?
Are Herbal Supplements Helping?
Seniors who may not be eating as well as they should or who don’t think they can afford the healthiest foods in the grocery store are often looking for something to give them the nutrients missing in their diet.
They look right to the shelf in the grocery or drug store that promises wellness in pretty colored bottles.
But will these bottles give them the wellness they seek at a cost they are willing to pay while requiring little effort outside of swallowing?
Experts agree that safety of herbal supplements is difficult to measure because they are not produced consistently, they use different parts of the plant, often more than one part in each pill, and contain different species of plants in each type of product.
Supplements are considered foods and not regulated as medications.
The real problem is the lack of oversight in the supplement industry. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relies on manufacturers following safety guidelines and identifying the ingredients in their products. However when investigated, researchers find that they don’t always contain what they say they do.
Supplement manufacturers are not required to prove that their ingredients are effective and their claims are accurate. Most experts believe there is no way to really know what consumers are purchasing. Nearly 80% of herbals contained none of the product on the label or were contaminated with other plant material.
Tips for Family Caregivers
It is important to understand not only the lack of efficacy but also the potential for harm for senior loved ones who are already taking multiple prescribed medications if they choose to take herbal supplements.
Here are some tips to help family caregivers protect their seniors:
- Wait until the doctor recommends a nutritional supplement or at a minimum tell the doctor exactly which over-the-counter herbal supplements your senior is taking to be sure they aren’t interfering with (or replacing) prescription medications.
- More is not better in many cases. Don’t take excess quantities thinking that they will work better because this could be very dangerous. Follow label directions for dosages.
- Investigate the manufacturer of the supplement. Be sure the herbal supplement taken is unadulterated, free from contaminants that could be harmful, or if they even contain what they say they do so your senior isn’t throwing away their money (or their health). Use extreme caution when buying anything online.
- Be aware of any side effects if your senior takes herbal supplements. Reduce or eliminate these herbals if symptoms appear.
- Look out for possible allergic reactions especially to any added ingredients not listed on the label.
Eating a well-balanced and varied diet can keep your senior loved one healthy without spending money on botanicals that may not be needed and more importantly, may be dangerous.
Helping seniors eat right so that they won’t need to pay for supplements is the healthy choice. Here are some additional articles to help family caregivers overcome the obstacles seniors may face in getting adequate nutrition from their foods.