Asking About the Alternatives

Provides guidelines for doctors and patients on herbal supplements. Prohibition of using the supplements to young children, pregnant women, and the elderly; Suggestions for doctors to ask patients what supplements they are taking.

By PT Staff, published March 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016


Many doctors will cast a wary eye upon herbal supplements until more studies prove their safety. But that won't keep people from taking them. Michael Cirigliano, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, recommends that doctors overcome their bias and educate themselves about these popular--but unregulated-pills. "Doctors are in an excellent position to offer advice to patients," he says. "Physicians may look upon supplements as quackery, but the enlightened ones see this as a resource," he says. "I try to train my patients to know what their options are. They become empowered." They must also be cautious. Three of his guidelines for doctors and patients:

o Young children and the elderly have a decreased ability to metabolize substances and should not take herbal supplements.

o Pregnant women should not take herbal remedies since some may cross the placental barrier and reach the fetus.

o Doctors should always ask patients what supplements they're taking, since they could be causing illness or drug interactions.