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So What’s in The Bottle? – A Series on Dietary Supplements Knowing the Terms – Part I


Before venturing into the world of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) some ground work needs to be explored to better understand the terms used in the industry. Knowledge is power and educating yourself on the various products, their origins, the relative safety of products and other vital information is an important foundation to understanding. As we will explore in a five part series that will span from defining terms, product origin, safety, recalls and ultimately the decision process for determining if CAM is right for you. The information I intend to provide will be based on the information available through web site sources that include the FDA, NCCAM, PubMed, Natural Standard, and Consumer Lab. Let’s get started with understanding the terms. Here are a few to give you a broad view and a little background.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

The term Complementary and Alternative Medicine or “CAM” is used for medical products and or practices that are not part of standard care. Practiced by medical doctors. Complementary medicine means nonstandard treatments that you use along with standard ones where as Alternative Medicine is in place of standard care… Examples of CAM therapies would be herbal therapies, acupuncture and chiropractic care.

Botanicals & Herbal Supplements

Botanicals are plants with medicinal or therapeutic properties, which are used in products and labeled herbal products, phytomedicines or botanical supplements. Herbal supplements are a subset of Botanicals. Botanicals in comparison to nutritional supplements or pharmaceuticals are usually less refined and derived from bulk plant material.  Research is ongoing as Botanical pose a challenge due to varying chemical content in plant source; plant source contamination; and unwanted pesticides, heavy metals and other adulterants.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary Supplements are a type of herbal supplement that contains herbs or parts of the plant that can include flowers, leaves, bark, seeds, stems and roots either solo or in combination with other herbs for flavor, therapeutic properties or scent. To meet the classification as a dietary supplement the herb or botanical must meet the following criteria by definition:
• Intended to supplement diet;
• Contains one or more dietary ingredients that includes vitamins minerals herbs or other botanicals amino acids;
• Intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid; and
• Labeled on the front panel as being a dietary supplement.


Biologicals are products that typically represent the cutting edge of medical research and science and designed to replicate natural substances such as antibodies, hormones, enzymes, tissues & cells. According to this page, cellular biologics and Gene-based biologics are hot topics in biomedical research making it possible to create products to treat illnesses for which no other treatments exist.  Biological products can also be composed of sugars, proteins, or nucleic acids, or a combination of these substances and come from a variety of natural resources animal human microorganisms or may be produced by biotechnology methods.

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