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The Practical Herbalist

Herbs are not Vitamins

As a trained herbalist there is one thing that I always hate to see. That is vitamins mixed in the same product as herbs. It is not that I think that these products are dangerous. It is more of a confirmation that the companies who put out these products don't understand the medicine behind the proper use of herbs.

The real issue comes down to the understanding of supplementation verses medication. Vitamins and minerals and nutraceuticals (chemicals used by the body that are neither vitamins or minerals like omega 3 oils and glucosamine) are supplements. They provide essential chemical components to the body. They are necessary to the proper functioning of the body. They are either produced by the body or are provided in a well balanced diet or in a supplement pill form. Herbs on the other hand are often extreme foods or in some cases poisons that are used to effect the body in a particular way. They may contain vitamins or minerals like any food does, but they are not required by the body. Medicine in all its forms serves a specific purpose, to cause change. This is a part that confuses people. They look at common spices like ginger, garlic and cinnamon and say these are in my kitchen and yet they are also medicinal herbs? How can we classify those items the same way we do the medicines in our cabinets? The answer is in how we use those spices. Adding an appropriate spice to change the flavor of a meal is using a spice as a spice. Using a spice frequently (regardless of whether it is in a food or a capsule) to change how a person feels, that is using a spice as a medicine.

When a company mixes a herb into a vitamin mix they are ignoring these basic principles. The vitamin pill does not need to taste better, the herb is there as a medicine. All medicines, regardless of what it is, should be used only as long as medically necessary. That is the nature of medicine. When we mix a medicine with a supplement, we are combining something that our body needs with something that should be monitored as to whether it is actually needed. This is why drug companies do not make products that conveniently mix vitamins in with their drugs. The risk of a patient overdosing on their drug because they want to increase their vitamins, or overdosing their vitamins because they are taking other products that contain vitamins, is a real danger. The same situation exists when herbs are mixed with vitamins.

I have seen some bad situations where patients were turning to brand name companies for their "herbal support" and taking multiple products containing herbs. Those herbs were mixed in a multivitamin format. The result was that these patients were overdosing on the vitamins. Many vitamins are toxic to the body in high dose. Because these people wanted to take a particular herb that they heard was good, they were actually endangering their health in the way they were doing it. Hopefully as people come to understand herbs as medicine, these types of herb and vitamin combination products will be understood as the bad idea that they are.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066