WebMD Now: The Scoop on Herbs and Supplements

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Have you heard? You're just a few capsules away from perfect vision, clearer skin, a faster metabolism, and better sex. Can herbs and supplements really live up to these kind of claims? Well, experts say some can definitely offer health advantages, but you have to be a careful, smart consumer to get the most out of them, and in some cases, to avoid harmful effects.

Let's get to the truth about herbs and supplements. For starters, some can help you get the nutrients you need, like if you're taking folic acid because you're pregnant, or calcium if you're at risk for osteoporosis. Ask your doctor if you need to take any vitamin or mineral supplements to stay healthy. In other cases, herbs and supplements aren't going to help. Sorry, everyone. There's no magic weight loss supplement.

If it sounds too good to be true, it is. It's important to know that supplements don't get the same level of FDA scrutiny that drugs do, so we can't always be sure that what's on the label is actually what's in the supplement. Most supplements are OK, but there have been some problems. In one study, half of the herbal supplements tested didn't even contain the ingredient listed on the label.

In other cases, there have been ingredients in there that shouldn't be, which can cause harmful side effects. How can that happen? Well, herbs and vitamins are treated like food, meaning they don't have to be tested like drugs do. And while the FDA does create regulations around proper manufacturing, there's a loophole.

The companies don't have to prove that the supplements do what they say they do, which means the FDA only steps in if there has been a health problem reported. If you want to take supplements, follow these simple rules. Read the label, and all the information that comes with the product regarding proper dosage.

Remember that natural does not mean that it's safe for you. And most importantly, don't take any of this stuff without consulting with your doctor and doing a bit more research. Even safe supplements can interact with other drugs, like aspirin. So follow these steps, use common sense, and know what you're taking before you reach for that bottle.