Traditional herbal medicine as modern dietary supplements…

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Interesting perspective on the distinction between dietary supplements and “herbal medicine” – very much in-line with a seminar that I delivered at Hong Kong Polytechnic University a few years ago and a project that I just finished for a major pharma company. Unfortunately, the point is somewhat moot, given our current regulatory framework where herbs are classified as supplements and “traditional medicines” have a very expensive path to become “botanical drugs” – but there is not much possible in the middle ground…


Chin J Integr Med. 2017 Jan 20. doi: 10.1007/s11655-016-2536-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Non-scientific classification of Chinese herbal medicine as dietary supplement.


This article focuses the category status of Chinese herbal medicine in the United States where it has been mistakenly classified as a dietary supplement. According to Yellow Emperor Canon of Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing), clinical treatment in broad sense is to apply certain poisonous medicines to fight against pathogeneses, by which all medicines have certain toxicity and side effect. From ancient times to modern society, all, or at least most, practitioners have used herbal medicine to treat patients’ medical conditions. The educational curriculums in Chinese medicine (CM) comprise the courses of herbal medicine (herbology) and herbal formulae. The objective of these courses is to teach students to use herbal medicine or formulae to treat disease as materia medica. In contrast, dietary supplements are preparations intended to provide nutrients that are missing or are not consumed in sufficient quantity in a person’s diet. In contrast, Chinese herbs can be toxic, which have been proven through laboratory research. Both clinical practice and research have demonstrated that Chinese herbal medicine is a special type of natural materia medica, not a dietary supplement.


Chinese herbal medicine; dietary supplements; herbal medicine; non-scientific classification

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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