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Inheriting Health

62 percent of Hispanics ages 45+ use herbal supplements. Should they?

Medicina Alternativa

— Tetra Images/Getty Images

En español | When Tina Espinosa's stomach hurts, she doesn't just reach for the Pepto-Bismol. She also drinks a cup of manzanilla tea. "They say manzanilla is great for stomach digestion, and I like the taste too, especially with a bit of sugar. And it works."

The healing properties of the herb—also called chamomile—are well known in her culture, says the 66-year-old Miami resident. Natural soothing teas like manzanilla and tilo have been staples in her family since she was a young girl in Cuba. "My mother taught me the benefits of manzanilla, and her mother taught her, and I taught my daughter."

Espinosa's not alone. An exclusive AARP Viva poll found that more than 60 percent of Hispanics age 45 and older say they use herbal remedies or supplements for pain relief (18 percent), stomachaches (17 percent), headaches (10 percent), colds (9 percent), skin problems (8 percent), and other concerns. And, like Espinosa, more than half consider the use of sup-plements a cultural tradition they intend to pass on.

But registered dietician Malena Perdomo, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA), recommends first having a conversation with your health care provider. "Share with your provider what supplements you are taking, and ask which supplements would be good [for you]," she says. "Everyone is different, and we all have different needs."

Espinosa takes that advice to heart. Unlike 70 percent of Hispanics surveyed, she reviews her use of herbal supplements and vitamins with her doctors.

Doing your homework can help, says Perdomo, who recommends the websites of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in both Spanish and English, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Dietician Ximena Jimenez, also an ADA spokesperson, warns that even supplements labeled "natural" may not always be a healthy alternative. And other herbal supplements, she says, may be unsafe if consumed in large amounts.

Back in Miami, Espinosa continues to take herbal supplements—with her doctors' approval and in the name of health and family tradition.



American Botanical Council—A good site for basic information on herbals.

American Dietetic Association—Information on nutrition in English and Spanish.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine—Lead federal agency for research on health care systems, practices, and products not generally considered part of conventional medicine. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture—Offers the federal government's MyPyramid food guide and extensive information on good nutrition.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration—Sign up for e-mail alerts on product approvals, safety warnings, and other health information.

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