If you are taking or considering any herbs or dietary supplements for diabetes or one of its related conditions (like high cholesterol) you first need to be sure that they work. The best way to do that is to check them out is in a Natural Health Encyclopedia, which I referred to in my blog Alternative Therapies for Diabetes.
But finding which herbs or supplements to take is less than half the battle. The real challenge is to find the right brand at the best price.
The big problem is that the government doesn’t require herbs or supplements to be tested for quality before companies offer to sell them to you. While the FDA closely regulates the prescription drugs that we take, by law neither that agency or any other can regulate the sale of herbs and supplements.
When I spoke with Steven Bratman, M.D., the creator of the Natural Health Encyclopedia recently, I mentioned some brands that I had used and thought highly of. His reply stunned me: “You can’t rely on any particular brand, no matter how good you think its reputation is.”
There’s another problem. “Information wants to be free,” as Whole Earth Catalog creator Steward Brand famously said in 1984. But the best information about herbs and supplements isn’t.
Since your tax dollars don’t insure that they supplements you want are any good, to separate the apples from the lemons you may need to buy that information directly.
Few websites charge for their information, but ConsumerLab.com is one. A one-year subscription is $24.
Until recently I resisted the urge to pay for their objective tests of herbs and supplements, because of a “love letter” that ConsumerLab President Tod Cooperman, M.D., sent me five years ago for alleged “misuse” of their “proprietary information” – which I got from one of his press releases – on my website. He told me that I could license his information for $50,000 or more per year. I don’t have that kind of money, but Dr. Bratman finally convinced me to subscribe.
ConsumerLab.com “has been conducting systematic independent surveys of supplements for several years, and has frequently found that the labels of some products are grossly inaccurate,” Dr. Bratman says. “Companies aren’t sued for their deceptive practices nor go out of business, and consumers go on buying whatever brand is cheapest or most convenient, regardless of whether it contains any of the substance they are trying to purchase. For this reason, before you buy a supplement, I recommend that you first look it up on the ConsumerLab website to see which brands are actually contain what they say on the label.”
To date that website has reviewed more than 700 products in more than 50 supplement and nutrition categories. And they courageously name the products that fail their tests. Their reviews include many products of great interest to people with diabetes, including cholesterol lowerers, chromium, ginseng, multivitamins and multiminerals, noni juice, omega 3, and alpha-lipoic acid.
Consumer Reports magazine also tests herbs and supplements from time to time.
The third resource takes us back to Dr. Bratman. He says that particularly for herbs, you need to know which ones were used in clinical trials – particularly those high quality randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies that showed positive results.
“Regarding herbs, I would only get the tested brand, and they’re always expensive,” Dr. Bratman told me.
He lists most of the tested herbal products on his website. Determining which brands are any good isn’t all you need to do when you decide to use herbs and supplements. The next thing you need to do is to shop for price. Froogle (http://froogle.google.com/frghp?hl=en&tab=wf&q=) is a great tool to help you do that.
A couple of online stores offer excellent prices. I have shopped at iHerb.com for years. Another online retailer that offers low prices is The Vitamin Shoppe.
Yes, this sure is a costly way to get some little pills. It is, in fact, the same choice that the mugger gave Jack Benny years ago: “Your money or your life.” Benny replied, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” I hope you are too.
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.