people take Chinese herbal supplements everyday, but few people know
what they are actually taking. To make a decision if a herbal supplement
product is right for you, consumers should first know how to read
and interpret the information presented on the label. The following
information helps you become more familiar with the basic elements
on a Chinese herbal label that is marketed in the United States.
Health Supplement Claim
The health supplement claim should clearly describe the product's
intended use and its specific health maintenance area. It also
lets individuals understand which structure or function of the
human body is affected.
Chinese herbal supplements, health maintenance is achieved through
resuming balance of the body. Creating body balance is the key
to well-being and is the guiding principle of Chinese medicine.
Body balance incorporates balance between yin
and yang, qi
(vital energy) and blood,
yin organs and the six
yang organs, the twelve
meridian systems and lastly balance between the
body and the environment.
For example, in the sample label above, Equiguard™ is
specifically designed for kidney and prostate health maintenance
in individuals with kidney
yang deficiency. The resumption of yin yang balance
of a particular organ is a common health maintenance strategy
in TCM. The concept actually originated from ancient TCM literature
Ti Nei Ching (The Yellow Emperor's Medicine Classic),
which said: "If yin and yang are not in harmony, it will
be like spring without autumn and winter without summer. Therefore,
maintenance of yin yang harmony is the best principle for maintaining
Some labels show which category of general well-being is promoted
by the health supplement product.
side effects listed on drug labels, precautions are not necessarily
true proven side effects. A lot of times, they are based on
potential interactions of the single herb ingredients or of
known interactions of similar products. They are meant as guidance
for individuals to be aware of what they should be looking for
to avoid a potential adverse reaction. Precautions should clearly
state what conditions to be aware of while taking the health
For Chinese herbal supplements, the whole health maintenance
principle is based on resuming the harmony that has been upset
within the body. Therefore, individuals should carefully choose
the best supplements that are right for their own deficiency
pattern in order to obtain optimal health benefits. Usually
only essential precautions are listed on labels, individuals
should refer to product write-ups or contact the company supplying
the supplement so they can have more complete information about
the product they are taking. For example, the manufacturer may
be able to tell you if any consumers have reported any drug
interactions with their product.
Equiguard™'s precautions advise individuals not to take
the supplement if they are on diuretic medications, have high
blood pressure or constipation. These precautions arise from
possible effects of herbs used singly in this mixture and are
meant to prevent individuals who may have an unsuitable deficiency
pattern from taking this product. In this case, in order to
give individuals the safest, most effective and optimal health
advice, the Chinese herbal supplement developer chose to adopt
a prudent and cautious attitude in establishing precautions
for the health supplement. Although these conditions may
not be absolute contraindications, they are listed so that individuals
can have a more focused and effective health supplement selection.
According to TCM theory, individuals have various of body
constitution types, and therefore, different
and excess syndromes will present. Professional
Chinese herbal supplement developers being familiar with these
concepts should be able to recognize the importance of identifying
an individuals' own needs in the delicate health balance. By
adopting a detailed approach in the precautions, the credibility
of the Chinese herbal supplement product will be increased allowing
individuals to make a better health supplement choice with more
The Supplement Facts table is an information box containing
a product's main ingredients. It is not required in all countries
labeling requirements. For herbal supplements, it generally
contains the herb's botanical name or its common name, the plant
part of the ingredient herbs (e.g. root, stem, fruit, seed),
suggested serving size and amount per serving. The herbs are
required to be listed in order from the most prevalent to the
least prevalent in the mixture.
herbal supplements, information in the Supplement Facts table
actually reveals the balance resuming strategy of the herbal
formula and combination. In addition to listing the ingredient
herbs in the order of weight proportion, different herbal ingredients
usually play different roles in the herbal combination. According
to TCM theory, herbs are usually classified into four groups,
namely the monarch,
assistant and guide
depending on their functions.
These four groups are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Sometimes
one herb can play all four roles simultaneously. Sometimes several
herbs combine together to exert a synergistic effect, sometimes
herbs of contradicting properties are deliberately put together
to provide dynamic balancing effects. The strategy applied in
the herbal combination is the soul of the health wisdom granted
by the Chinese herbal supplement. It is usually complex and
more than just the additive effects of the individual herbs.
Therefore, it is important to realize that escalating a dose
may not produce more beneficial health effects.
5. Plant Parts
In Chinese herbal supplements, herbs of different species
are used to provide combination health maintenance effects so
that the upset body balance can be resumed. But even for the
same species of herb, different plant parts can have different
natural ingredients and hence different pharmacological actions.
According to TCM theory, the plant parts have additional meaning
because of their associated meridian and yin yang properties.
Therefore, good Chinese herbal supplements should have clear
information about the name of the plant ingredients and their
corresponding plant parts. For example in Equiguard™,
the Supplement Facts table has listed the Latin botanical names
of the herbal ingredients in the order of weight proportion.
Plant parts are shown in brackets.
the manufacturing process of most health supplements, other
ingredients are commonly used to make up convenient dosage forms
like tablets and capsules or to help bind the ingredients together.
Any coloring or additives used are also listed here. Often,
these ingredients are inert and listed for the complete ingredient
information for label readers.
For example, on the Equiguard™ label, other ingredients
include hydroxypropyl methylcellulose and titanium dioxide.
They are actually the ingredients that make up the vegetarian
empty capsule shells.
use of a health supplement should include the quantity to be
taken or the amount to be used, the frequency and timing of
administration and the route of administration. While most supplements
are meant to be taken orally, a few are applied topically. This
information is important for the optimal absorption of the health
supplements into the body. If a dosage range is listed, it is
recommended to contact the manufacturer or distributor to ask
which dosage would be most suitable and with which dosage to
start. If this is not possible, it is always advisable to start
with the lowest recommended dosage and work up to the maximum
dosage while observing for health benefits and potential adverse
Distributed By or Manufactured By
section lists name and address of the distributor or manufacturer.
Should an individual have any query about the health supplement,
he/she may contact the distributor/manufacturer for more information.
Before shows the shelf-life of the health supplement products.
Shelf-life is the period during which the quality of a supplement
is expected to remain within acceptable limits.
inclusion of a batch number is a standard labeling requirement
for batch identification. It helps both the consumer and the
company to identify the product should problems arise. Good
batch traceability is one of the quality requirements for all
here to know about our products.
Chung, B Pharm., Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings Ltd.
Angela Collingwood, MSN, Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings
Rose Tse, Integrated Chinese Medicine Holdings Ltd.