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How to choose a reliable natural medicine

How to choose a reliable natural medicine

Find out how to select a reliable natural medicine with these top tips

Clinical insight
Reading time: 4 minutes

How to choose a reliable natural medicine

Searching for a natural medicine can seem overwhelming. With a huge number of natural medicines available, many with similar uses and claims, how do you find one that’s reliable and can deliver the health outcomes you’re looking for?

Consider the evidence

Clinical trials can help to demonstrate a natural medicine’s possible effects in an objective and scientific manner. A history of  traditional use may exist for a particular herb or plant – but that doesn’t mean that it is has been tested in clinical studies to  demonstrate those health outcomes. Furthermore, natural medicines using the same ingredient can vary due to the differences in the growth, cultivation, extraction and production processes. For this reason it is important to check if the product itself, has been tested in clinical trials to help ensure reliable health outcomes.

While many of the modern uses of herbs are based on traditional or ancient medicines, there are many important factors when it comes to finding a natural medicine that you can rely on. 

Top tips for researching natural health products:

1. Check whether the product claims are referenced to published clinical papers

  • A referenced claim will often have a reference or footnote number next to it, to indicate there is substantiation for the claim

  • Usually the published paper will be listed at the bottom of a page, with the author, scientific journal name and publication date
  • Look for reputable scientific journals available through databases such as PubMed with links to full-text from PubMed Central® and publisher websites.

2. Ensure that the research is specific to your particular product or brand – and not just the generic plant or ingredient

  • For example, the SFI Health product KeenMind, uses a specific extract of Bacopa monnieri called CDRI 08. The clinical evidence for KeenMind is based on 6 clinical trials using that particular extract (CDRI 08), as opposed to using generic data on any Bacopa monnieri preparation.

3. Quality AND Quantity  

  • When it comes to the evidence itself, look for randomised controlled clinical trials and large observational studies. Note that ‘marketing research’ studies do not equate to rigorous scientific support.

Understand the process

Not all natural medicines are created equal; they can be highly complex and can have multiple active compounds which may individually and/or collectively be responsible for their health outcomes. Following strict quality control processes to help ensure a consistent amount and composition of active compounds is essential from batch to batch.
  • The composition of a plant can vary considerably depending on where it’s grown, how it’s cultivated, when and how it’s harvested - just like the grapes in different wines, or the coffee beans in your coffee that makes it taste different.
  • The particular extract from each plant can also vary depending on the extraction and manufacturing process. These differences can have a significant impact on the properties of the finished product.
  • Check for strict quality control processes from source to patient to help ensure batch-to-batch consistency and reliability.

Be specific or proprietary

Specific or proprietary natural medicines are carefully made according to strict quality control processes that are often patented or unique to that product. This helps ensure not only a consistent natural medicine from batch to batch, but most importantly consistency with the medicine tested in clinical studies that demonstrates health outcomes.  
Specific or proprietary natural medicines sometimes have a trademarked or proprietary name. For example the Panax ginseng in Ginsana is known as G115® and the Hedera helix in Prospan is known as EA 575. This helps ensure the product is consistent between batches and that they contain the natural medicine tested in clinical studies to demonstrate health outcomes.
  • Look for products that state they contain specific or proprietary extracts that have been tested in clinical studies.

Confirm your need

What are you hoping to achieve from taking a natural medicine? Have you spoken to a healthcare professional?
They may have specific recommendations, and can help you better understand your health concern and any relevant issues in taking a natural healthcare product.
  • If you think that a natural  health product  is right for you then make sure you are aware of the dosing, duration of use tolerability and precautions or interactions with other medicines
  • Follow the directions of use as - some products may take a few months before an effect becomes apparent
Remember, natural healthcare products can support your health in a number of ways – it is always helpful to make sure you’ve done your research!
References available upon request
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