ESTIMATED TIME COMMITMENT: 6-15 minutes
AVERAGE READING LEVEL: 13.5
I have received dozens of questions on where to find reliable and thorough drug information for herbals and supplements. That is part of the reason I started this site—to provide that information and research all in one place. There are hundreds of sites on the internet that provide drug information for herbals and supplements, but it’s difficult to tell which are accurate and comprehensive.
As a pharmacy student, I have access to some drug information sites that most people don’t. These sites require a subscription, and very few people have the desire or need to pay for it. Taking this into consideration, I did some research comparing three free websites that offer herbal and supplement drug information. The goal of the research was to evaluate which website was the best for herbal and supplement information when compared to Natural Medicines Database.
Natural Medicines Database (a site available through subscription) was used as the basis for comparison because it has been found to be the most comprehensive and easy-to-use herbal database through previous research. Since herbals, supplements, and other over-the-counter products do not require approval by the FDA, it’s difficult to find a gold standard for that drug information. However, the health professional community generally agrees that Natural Medicines Database is the closest to that standard for herbal and supplement information, and so I use it here in my research.
The three websites I evaluated were Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, and Examine.com. The first two were chosen based on published research that found them to be helpful free websites. Examine.com was chosen because it was a website I had personally used for herbal and supplement information in the past. The websites were evaluated based on completeness scores (when compared to Natural Medicines Database), ease of use, and reliability. A more in-depth look at the evaluation parameters for my research can be found at the bottom of this article under the “Methods” section of my research poster.
In order to properly evaluate the websites, I needed topics to research. I searched for the top herbals and found a list on the American Botanical Council website. The list was for the top 40 herbals (based on total sales in dollars). I took the top 10 herbals from that list to use in my evaluation of the websites. Below you can find the results of the evaluation put into tables.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center completeness when compared to Natural Medicines Database
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health completeness when compared to Natural Medicines Database
Examine.com completeness when compared to Natural Medicines Database
Reliability criteria information
A short discussion on the results of the research:
- The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center site was the easiest to use: the site had drop down menus that made it simple to look at the information you wanted and not get overwhelmed by the rest of the information. They have not replied to my attempts to contact them regarding their research process, so I had to base their reliability score solely on their completeness score. However, the information that was present on the site was similar to that on Natural Medicines Database, so they still received a “somewhat reliable” score.
- The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health site was somewhat easy to use. The information was separated into “what we have learned” and “what do we know about safety” which helped in finding information a little faster. The information posted to the site is also based on the National Library of Medicine; as the library updates, the site does as well. However, their information is not as complete as it could be. The information on the site received a “reliable” score despite the lower completeness score due to the quality research process.
- Examine.com was the most comprehensive and offered much more information beyond the parameters I was searching for, including the ability to search for herbs with similar key uses to the herb I was evaluating. I only gave Examine.com a “neutral” score for ease of use due to the difficulty in finding some of the information I evaluated for completeness; they have a nice summary at the top of the page, but specific information was occasionally hidden below. Examine.com also received a “reliable” score due to their utilization of health professionals in evaluating the research and updating the site.
For the full discussion section of my research, including the limitations, check out my poster at the bottom of the article under SUMMARY AND REFERENCES.
Evaluating this information, I was able to make some conclusions about the free information websites; the first being that none of the free websites were even close to as comprehensive as the Natural Medicines Database. They all have their benefits, but the Natural Medicines Database has been considered the best herbal and supplement drug information database by health professionals for a reason. As far as the best free website, I found Examine.com to be the most comprehensive and beneficial personally (hence why I include them in my list of quality reference sites). The layout and pure quantity of information on the site takes some getting used to, but for anyone looking for free, reliable information about herbs or supplements, Examine.com is my first recommendation.
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center site offered the next highest completeness score. The extra information beyond the parameters I looked at was not nearly as much as Examine.com, though it was much easier to navigate by comparison. For someone looking for information on herbals who doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by tons of extra information, I would recommend the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center site.
Finally, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health site offered the least information about the herbals. The site gave a basic overview of the herbal—which could be useful for someone looking for a general understanding of what an herbal is used for and how safe it is—but I personally wouldn’t use this site for any herbal that I was considering taking myself; it doesn’t offer enough information.
Finding free and reliable information on the internet is often challenging due to all the sites that offer drug information; it’s grueling to determine what information is accurate and what is unreliable. After reading this article and viewing my research poster, I hope I have properly presented some options for free herbal and supplement drug information websites.
SUMMARY AND REFERENCES: