Are all herbal products and supplements the same?

This general information is to help you appreciate the quality aspects of herbal medicine and some industry knowledge so that you may make well-informed choices.

Phytotherapy, as practiced in my clinic, select herbs mainly from the Western herbal tradition (British, Australian, European and American). Some Eastern herbs (Chinese, Indian, Malay and Thai etc.) are also incorporated where there are sufficient scientific evidence and safety profile.

  • We source our herbs and herbal products from a small range of suppliers dedicated to the highest standards of herbal quality. Our suppliers provide exclusive distribution to health professionals such as medical doctors and herbalists to ensure the highest standard of product quality and professional dispensing with proper documentation.
  • Whenever possible, we use certified organic or wildcrafted herbs.
  • All our herbal products are produced to GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) pharmaceutical (not food standard) standard or current GMP as required in the United States. Refer to FDA: https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/Manufacturing/ucm169105.htm
  • All herbs used in our clinic in the form of liquid extracts, tablets, tea and dried herbs are tested for microbial levels, pesticides and herbicides, heavy metals, aflatoxins and other contaminations. It is a requirement for herbal products dispensed in a medical or naturopathic clinic, in accordance with national regulations such as Singapore Health Science Authority (HSA), TGA (Australia) and FDA CGMP.

Please note that many commercially available “herbal supplements” and herbal products available over the counter are of lower potency (for general supplementation only) and most of them are not formulated by a trained medical herbalist. They may contain –

  • Substitution of species: One herb may be substituted for another less costly herb (quite common in products not formulated by a herb specialist).
  • Mixed with pharmaceuticals: Herbs may be mixed with a pharmaceutical drug to boost the effectiveness of the product (a safety concern in many supplements produced in developing countries).
  • Wrong species – contain incorrectly identified a plant.
  • Low extraction ratio or incorrect extraction methods: Lower potency with little clinical relevance (most commercial health supplements fall under this category).
  • Heavy metals contamination such as lead. This is especially a concern for dried herbs and tea.
  • Pesticides and herbicides: Non-organic dried herbs and tea may have high levels of pesticide and herbicide residues. The latter is associated with hormonal imbalance (such as fibroids, cysts) and cancer. Imagine taking in these toxins in your tea and homemade soups on a regular basis.

Many herbal formulations and supplements are created by chemists and based on the biomedical model, which may not take into account absorption, digestion, the affinity of herbs and body organs, energetic properties of herbs (every herb has a heat, warm, cool, cold properties) etc. This may result in compromised efficacy and long-term safety.

Self-medication with herbal or health supplements is often a complete waste of resources because of inadequate potency, lower product quality, lack of coaching, and wrong formulation. Therefore, herbal medicine is most effective and safe when dispensed or formulated by a medical herbalist.

About Sebastian Liew

Matthew Wood, the renowned American herbalist described Sebastian as ‘one of the most unique and talented practitioners of natural healing and herbalism.’ The New Paper (Singapore) called Sebastian Liew 'The Medicine Man'. Indeed, Sebastian is a qualified and registered Medical Herbalist (accredited by the National Herbalists Association of Australia), with a Master's degree in Herbal Medicine from the University of New England, Australia. He is the first medical herbalist in Singapore and is known to popularize phytotherapy (Western herbal medicine), European traditional medicine, and St Hildegard medicine (Germany) in Singapore and probably in Asia. Sebastian has 20 years clinical work experiences and treated numerous patients with different medical conditions from all age groups in his Singapore clinic. Sebastian authored the book, Leaf to Life: The Natural Approach to Slow Down Aging and Living a Healing Life, which set the fundamentals for healthy aging and the prevention or treatment for almost all diseases. Please visit website http://slnaturopath.com
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