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Vitamins & Supplements

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 defines a dietary supplement as a product taken by mouth that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to supplement the diet. Dietary supplements contain one or more of the following: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandular products, or metabolites. They are available in a variety of forms including capsules, tablets, gelcaps, powders, softgels, liquids, and bars. The DSHEA requires that supplements be represented and labeled strictly as such—not as conventional food items. Information about the DSHEA is available on this U.S. Food and Drug Administration site: http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/default.htm.

Call Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Drug Information Center at 312.926.7573 whenever you have a question about any supplement, herbal product, or drug, whether prescription or over the counter. This is a free service.

Internet Resources

General Sites

MedlinePlus: Dietary Supplements
Developed by the National Library of Medicine specifically for consumers, MedlinePlus is a portal for both government-sponsored and privately developed health information.

United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC): Dietary Supplements
FNIC is a global leader in online nutrition information. This site links to a wide variety of information about supplements and herbal products and is a good starting point.

National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Dietary Supplements
This consumer portal links to NIH Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets and other excellent health information and research resources related to dietary supplements.

U.S. National Library of Medicine: Dietary Supplements Labels Database
Find information about label ingredients and manufacturer claims for over 6,000 selected dietary supplement brands, and compare label ingredients among different brands.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): Dietary and Herbal Supplements
This site offers extensive information about dietary supplements. From the “Scientific Literature” section, link directly to the PubMed Dietary Supplement Dataset and other research literature about dietary supplements.

Safety and Fraud Issues

How to Spot Health Fraud
This article from FDA Consumer gives examples of fraudulent health care claims and tips on how to recognize and avoid them.

Mayo Clinic: Herbal Supplements: What to Know Before You Buy
This site presents tips and precautions for those considering herbal supplements.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Consumer Updates-Dietary Supplements
By law, the FDA is responsible for monitoring safety and taking action against supplement products after they have reached the market. All pre-market safety is the responsibility of the manufacturer. This site links to current FDA alerts related to dietary supplements and allows consumers to receive future alerts via e-mail or RSS Feed.

Public Citizen: Text of House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform Hearing on Dietary Supplements
This site includes the text of a statement about the lack of oversight of dietary supplements and the consequent dangers posed by their unregulated production and sale.

U. S. Food and Drug Administration: Beware of Fraudulent Weight-Loss “Dietary Supplements”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions consumers about weight loss products that may not live up to claims and/or may be tainted illegally with prescription drugs.

Herbals and Ethnobotany

MedlinePlus: Herbal Medicine
This site links to excellent general resources about herbs and herbal supplements as well as information on a number of specific herbal products.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: About Herbs, Botanicals, and Other Products
Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Integrative Medicine Service produces and maintains these pages, which provide evidence-based information about several hundred substances.

University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: Complementary/Integrative Medicine Education Resources (CIMER) for Cancer
This site offers evidence-based reviews of complementary or alternative cancer therapies as well as links to other authoritative resources. Short summaries of critical information for the general public are designed to increase awareness of the evidence about complementary medicine and alternative medicine. Detailed scientific reviews are provided to assist health care professionals in guiding patients who would like to integrate these therapies with conventional treatments.

Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases
A comprehensive set of phytochemical and ethnobotanical databases developed by a former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist. Dr. Duke's book "The Green Pharmacy" is available at the Health Learning Center.

American Botanical Council: HerbMed
Produced and maintained by the Alternative Medicine Foundation, HerbMed is an interactive, electronic herbal database that provides hyperlinked access to the scientific data underlying the use of herbs for health. It is an evidence-based information resource for professionals, researchers, and the general public.

Society for Economic Botany
This organization was founded in 1959 to promote scientific research and education on the use of plants and the relationship between plants and people through history.

University of Washington: Medicinal Herb Garden
This site includes images of a large variety of herbals growing in a garden at the University of Washington. Take a virtual tour through the garden, look up individual plants by common or scientific name, or find research information on herbals.


  • Healing spices: how to use 50 everyday and exotic spices to boost health and beat disease. Aggarwal B. 2011.
  • The Western herbal tradition: 2000 years of medicinal plant knowledge. Tobyn G, Denham A and Whitelegg M. 2011.
  • The H.E.R.B.A.L. guide: dietary supplement resources for the clinician. Bonakdar RA. 2010.
  • Herb-drug interactions in oncology, 2nd ed. Cassileth B. 2010
  • Mayo Clinic book of alternative medicine: the new approach to using the best of natural therapies and conventional medicine. Mayo Clinic. 2007.
  • American Cancer Society complete guide to complementary & alternative cancer therapies / from the experts at the American Cancer Society, 2nd ed. American Cancer Society. 2009.
  • Pharmaceutical care with dietary supplements: concepts and common sense. McQueen CE, ed. 2007.
  • Mosby's handbook of herbs and natural supplements. Skidmore-Roth, L. 2006.
  • Modern nutrition in health and disease. Shils ME, ed. 2006.
  • Natural causes: death, lies, and politics in America’s vitamin and herbal supplement industry, 1st ed. Hurley D. 2006.
  • Nutrition and well-being A to Z, 10th ed. James DCS, ed. 2004. [Various passages in this classic text discuss dietary supplements. See “Dietary Supplements,” pp. 155–159, as well as articles on individual vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Available in print at the Health Learning Center or electronically at: http://www.nmh.org/nm/health+library+virtual+library ]


Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database is a highly regarded, evidence-based, online resource. It is a part of Clinical Pharmacology, a broader resource that provides monographs on drugs and supplement products as well as information about interactions among foods, drugs, and supplements. Both resources are available in all Health Learning Center locations at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

If you are unable to come in to use these resources, please contact us as directed below and we will see that you get the information you need.

Contact Us

For more information, please contact the Alberto Culver Health Learning Center at 312-926-5465, or e-mail us at HLC@nmh.org.

Last UpdateOctober 29, 2012