In the United States, the sale of natural medicines, specifically herbal supplements reached a record high of 6.922 billion USD in 2015. Even though in 2014 and 2015 there were a number of negative media reports (including the Dr. Mehmet Oz Senate Hearing and others) on the use of dietary and herbal supplements, their use has continued to gain in popularity. Over the past decade the sale of herbal supplements increased about 37% and their growth remains strong (see the figure above).
The top 5 selling herbs in mass market retailers (i.e., Walgreens, Walmart, Target, etc.) include:
From 2014, the sale of horehound and Echinacea increased 8.49% and 7.37%, respectively. These herbs are gaining in popularity because of their medicinal properties in treating colds and the flu. Horehound, in fact, is an ingredient commonly present in cough drops and lozenges. Cranberry sales also increased 16% due to its ability to treat urinary tract infections and for its flavonoid content.
Garcinia cambogia and green tea extracts experienced a significant decrease of about 23% from 2014. Dr. Mehmet Oz had recommended these two herbal extracts for weight loss. However, during a US Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance hearing with Dr. Oz, it was revealed that these herbs lacked evidence for their claimed weight loss benefits. In addition, there were media reports that green tea extracts were linked to adverse health events. The public’s distrust for these weight loss herbs has led to a decrease in their usage.
The top 5 selling herbs in natural and health food retailers (i.e., GNC, Lucky’s Market, Whole Foods Market, etc.) include:
The total sale of turmeric (including concentrated extracts of curcumin) in millions of USD ($37.335 million) is not as high as the top 5 selling herbs in mass market retailers, but its use is increasing greater than the other herbs listed. At an increase of 32.18%, turmeric’s rise in popularity is due to more evidence supporting its anti-inflammatory properties.
Wheat/barley grass and flax seed/oil decreased nearly 4% as consumers switched to other claimed superfoods to supplement their diets. Aloe sales increased 1.57% for its ability to treat skin conditions and elderberry increased 11.43% because, similar to horehound and Echinacea, its become popular in treating colds and the flu.
With this upward trend in the use and sales of herbal supplements, information about their safety and effectiveness is becoming more and more important. The lack of this information can result in negative health consequences as seen with green tea extracts.
Smith T, Kawa K, Eckl V, Johnson J. Sales of herbal dietary supplements in US increased 7.5% in 2015 consumers spent $6.92 billion on herbal supplements in 2015, marking the 12th consecutive year of growth. HerbalGram. 2016.
By Korey Brownstein