Responding to consumer demand for natural medicines, Consumer Reports, the hugely respected consumer-rating organization, has created an online database of herbs and dietary supplements. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (www.consumerreports.org/mg/natural-medicine/ratings.htm) launched in April.

The growth of the supplement industry is enormous, and consumers are often confused by conflicting reports about a product’s usefulness or safety, the Web site’s designers note. In 2002 alone, more than 19 percent of Americans reported taking at least one supplement; meanwhile we spend about $20 billion annually on herbal remedies for everything from weight loss to memory enhancement.

The subscription-based site ($19 per year, which allows users to also view Consumer Reports guides to prescription drugs and medical treatments) reports on the effectiveness, safety and possible harmful drug interactions of close to 14,000 supplements. Unique features of the site include the ability to view ingredient lists of specific products and guides to which supplements work best for various conditions.

For more information

These two free government Web sites also provide information about herbal and dietary supplements:

Office of Dietary Supplements (http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov/)

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (http://www.nccam.nih.gov/)

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