Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Dietary Supplements (Herbal Medicines and Natural Products)

Dietary Supplements (Herbal Medicines and Natural Products)

Treatment Overview

In the United States, dietary supplements are substances you eat or drink. They can be vitamins, minerals, herbs or other plants, amino acids (the individual building blocks of protein), or parts of these substances. They can be in pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid form. They supplement (add to) the diet and should not be considered a substitute for food.

Dietary supplements are widely available in the United States in health food stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, on the Internet, and by mail. People commonly take them for health-related reasons. Common dietary supplements include vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin C or a multivitamin), botanicals (herbs and plant products, such as St. John's wort), and substances that come from a natural source (such as omega-3 fatty acids).

Makers of dietary supplements cannot legally say that dietary supplements can diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease. But they can say that they contribute to health maintenance and well-being.

People have used the active ingredients in dietary supplements for thousands of years to help health and to treat illness. Sometimes those supplements are the basis for some of today's common medicines. For example, people have used willow bark tea for centuries to relieve fever. Pharmaceutical companies eventually identified the chemical in willow bark that relieved fever and used that knowledge to produce aspirin.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way that it regulates medicine. A dietary supplement can be sold without research on how well it works.

Why It Is Used

Why It Is Used

People use dietary supplements for many health conditions.

Historically, people have used herbal medicines to prevent illness, cure infection, relieve fever, and heal wounds. Herbal medicines have also been used for constipation, to ease pain, and to act as relaxants or stimulants. Research on some herbs and plant products has shown that they may have some of the same effects that conventional medicines do, while others may have no effect or may be harmful.

Researchers have found that some supplements do not help prevent certain health problems. For example, beta-carotene and vitamin E do not lower risk of heart disease or heart attack.

Risks

Risks

Not all herbs and supplements are safe. If you aren't sure about the safety of a supplement or herb, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you're thinking about combining a supplement with your standard medical treatment. It may not be safe to stop your medical treatment and rely only on a supplement. This is even more important if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

When using dietary supplements, keep these things in mind:

  • They may cause side effects or trigger allergic reactions. They can also interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might be taking. A side effect or interaction may make other health conditions worse.
  • The way supplements are made may not be standardized. Because of this, how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form of supplement that you buy in a store may not be the same as the form used in research.
  • Other than for vitamins and minerals, the long-term effects of most supplements aren't known.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Choosing a Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Complementary Medicine Dealing With Medicine Side Effects and Interactions

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details