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Dear Dietitian – Using herbal supplements

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Readers:

Chances are many of you who are reading this are taking some type of herbal supplement. Be it ginseng for better energy, saw palmetto for prostate health, or echinacea to boost the immune system, many are turning to natural remedies for their health.

It is important to realize that just because something is natural, does not mean it is good for you. Many herbal supplements interact with other medications, so it is important to talk to your health care provider before taking an herbal remedy.

A man in Texas needed a liver transplant after taking green tea extract for a few months. It is unclear if he was taking the extract as directed.  Drinking green tea is considered safe, and some studies show positive results in preventing heart disease, although these studies are limited. Green tea extracts often contain high levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant which has been linked to liver damage when taken in high doses. The European Food Safety Assessment (EFSA) warns against taking EGCG in doses greater than 800 mg/day, but has not established a safe dosage.

Supplements, vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way medicine is. While the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) tests vitamins and minerals for potency, absorption, and validity, this testing is voluntary and does not include herbal supplements. There have been tests performed on herbal supplements that have found contamination or that the product did not contain what it claimed.

We live in a “Let the buyer beware” society, so as with all products, be an informed consumer when it comes to herbal supplements. is a private company that independently tests herbal supplements and publishes the results. There is an annual fee to join. The following websites will also help you make a sound decision:

  1. The National Institutes of Health’s Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine website:
  2. The National Institutes of Health Medline Plus website 


Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian with over fifteen years of experience. Have a question?  Email Leanne at