I hope you will find these websites useful, as I do.
(I refuse to take money from anyone, so I have no conflicts of interest to disclose)
Resources for non-technical folks just trying to make sense of health information (see below for more technical or professional databases)
I love this organization!
I hope you will help support this unique organization because I believe they are keeping people from being poisoned or misled.
How do you know if your expensive supplements contain fillers and are spiked with undeclared drugs? Consumerlab is the only resource I know of that might help you out.
It is the only company that I know of whose primary mission is to independently buy and test supplements and vitamins. They will not tell you whether your product will "work". They do, however, have excellent, referenced summaries of scientific reviews on various products. This informational section is available without a subscription.
They make sure various brands don't contain heavy metals, that they contain what they are supposed to contain, in the amounts listed on the label, and that they dissolve properly.
They have also discovered (surprisingly often) some naughty companies spiking their products with undeclared drugs.
You have to subscribe to search their site, but if you take any supplements of vitamins, I think it is worth sharing the subscription with your family and friends. It is around 30 dollars a year, more or less, depending on the package you buy. This is how they fund all their analyses.
note: Consumer Reports, a different organization which is often confused with the similar-sounding Consumerlab, occasionally hires independent labs to do the same. However, this is not their primary agenda. I think Consumer Reports also performs a heroic job, when they put their mind to this task. For example they recently done some good sleuthing uncovering carcinogenic arsenic levels in rice and juice.
2. Nutrition Action Newsletter
A publication of the Center For Science in the Public Interest
This Washington, DC group has successfully lobbied the food industry to make food safer in many different ways, like getting trans fats on food labels. Now they are working on listing added sugars. Awesome.
They are brilliant at revealing deceptive marketing by both mainstream companies and supplement companies. They have a section that ranks classes of foods for health value by brand-for example, one month they might rate around 100 different yogurt brands for calories, calcium, sugar, and so on, the next month they will perform the same treatment on another food product.
They also give kudos to companies that put out healthy products or to companies that have changed their ways for the better.
You can read all their archives online at
You can also subscribe to the same information in paper format for around 20 dollars a year.
3. New Scientist
A weekly print and online magazine that really helps me stay on top of the latest science news. You don't have to be a scientist to understand the blessedly short news summaries. From the UK, it gives you a nice perspective from across the pond.
A great gift subscription for anyone venturing into a science career.
This is my favorite magazine to read. My husband and I read each one. I mostly read the medical/chemical/biological/ news. I am impatient with the cosmology, reading those on occasion, and figure I can wait till they figure the cosmos all out for me, first. That might take a while.
4. Linus Pauling Institute
At Oregon State University
Pauling was a brilliant chemist, whose insights truly amaze me to this day, but he was adamantly wrong about certain nutritional ideas. The early history of LPI may have started out similarly shakey with compromised funding, but now is a very different and respectable animal.
Very active in research in nutrients and herbs, and have excellent, up-to-date articles on a limited number of herb and supplement topics at
They occasionally publish a newsletter and it is very technical, interviewing their researchers for details on their work. I like it!
Did Native Americans know something about this plant that we ought to take a second look at?
Obviously, since these notes are second hand and anecdotal, these should not be taken as any guarantee plants used in these references are safe or effective. They are valuable as potential leads in further research and precious resources for preserving cultural information.
These are lovely, precious works preserving the labor of people like Huron Smith who collected information from the
Another good database from the University of Michigan:
I am sure there are many more I could add. (Feel free to make suggestions and I will add them.)
1. Websites selling you supplements or products they talk about. This is called an Advertisement.
2. Websites and publications with advertisements—preferably find ones with no advertisements! Sometimes I act as a consultant for articles in these magazines and I have learned to be wary of what they write.
I have been gently but persistently nagged by editors of some glossy women's health magazines that shall remain nameless, to express opinions favorable to supplement advertisers in these magazines. They did not succeed. I can not vouch for other authors in these types of magazines. Some of the information is good, and some of it is absolute crap.
3. Anything where you have to send away skin, hair, or saliva samples for nutrient testing. There is no evidence that supports this technique, MDs do not use it. They will invariably tell you of a deficiency and then sell you something to correct it.
4. Anything you pay to help you you cleanse or detox from above or below. Unless you need a liver transplant or are on dialysis, you can do that fine all by yourself. Really.
More technical or professional databases that anyone can explore
I use these frequently for researching plant molecules
1. National Library of Medicine's Pubmed
This is probably my most indispensable resource, if I had to choose just one, this would be it. Here you can read abstracts of scientific studies from very reputable journals and also not so reputable ones.
a few tips on using pubmed
Tutorials? I see they have these now, and I have never felt I had time to look at them. If you are brand new you might want to look at them.
Explore the limits I like to use the "limits" function when I search on herbs, and look at only "randomized controlled trials"; "meta-analyses"; and "clinical trials", "humans", recently published, "review", etc.
full text access? One major trick is getting the full text article to read. If you are associated with a college or library, they can help you out, as they often have access, or can provide interlibrary loans. It is worth it to work out a way to get the full text of most articles reliably, if you are reading lots of research every day. I have my methods.
When these fail, I often do a quick search of the title of the article in quotes in a search engine and sometimes I get lucky to find a free pdf. If you want it badly right away you might have to pay 35 dollars. There is increasing pressure to make more full text articles available to read.
what to believe: Do not assume one study means anything. It is merely an indication, possibly. You can feel a little more comfortable if you find data that has been reproduced in many labs, all saying the same thing.
funding: Take a look also at any Author Disclosure Statements at the bottom of the full text article: who is funding the research? If there is a conflict of interest it does not necessarily negate the data, but it is worth knowing.
study design and data processing: Is is double blind placebo controlled and randomized? Books have been written on how to interpret the "rigor" of a study design, and what the data really mean; even scientists and doctors are frequently baffled by the meanings of percent risk and statistically significant p values and number needed to treat and such. This essential skill takes practice and it helps to talk to other researchers who have experience reading and interpreting lots of studies.
who published it? Some scientific articles are better reviewed by their publishers than others. If it is a highly cited journal, you are better off, but even that is no guarantee.
Don't take a published study's cited references at face value, dig them up and read them. For example, I ran across a recent review on bilberry which made me do a double-take. The author asserted that research supported common folk tales that bilberry was effective in treating night blindness. All I could recall was inconclusive results on this end point. Sure enough, all the references she listed as "proof" that bilberry worked stated just the opposite of what she was saying: if you read them, you would see the bilberry extracts did not work on lab animals to aid their vision at all. Either she had not read her own references, or she was hoping that no one else did.
Lesson: Just because someone has references to scientific articles does not mean they have read the articles. It is up to you to do that. You have my sympathy.
2. IUPHAR database
(International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology)
Here you can do a search on a molecule, bring up a table that tells you basic chemical information like molecular weight and IUPAC name. If you click on the tab that says "biological activity" you can further find whether it is an agonist, antagonist, ligand, enzyme, etc. and where, and find links to published articles referencing the study that gave evidence for that particular activity. Or, you can search on a receptor, conversely, and find its ligands. Very useful.
3. The Journal of Nutrition Online
This is just a nice site to know because you get nothing but free full text articles. It isn't just one journal but several related ones and symposia as well.
I love to just grab review articles on a particular topic that I want to bone up on, and use them for bedtime reading. No gnashing my teeth that I can't get instant access to the full text. Lovely!
4. Dr. Duke's phytochemical database (free)
I use this for plant constituents, but not their "activities".
Once I find an interesting chemical, I often want to know which plants make a lot of it.
Conversely, I often want to know what chemicals are in a particular plant. This database really helps with both of these questions. Not all plants are there, but it remains very useful for a first pass search.
If you can't find a particular chemical, consider that it might have other names.
(for example, if you are looking for butyrate in a plant, you might also search alternate forms or synonyms like butyric acid, butanoic acid, and butanoate.)
You can search on a plant and find out what chemicals are in it, and what part, (root, stem, flower) by ppm, or, conversely, look for a common plant chemical---say vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and search on that to find plants that have the highest concentration of that substance.
They also list the so-called "activites" of particular plant chemicals but I never look at that section, possibly because I don't trust a simple statement without thoroughly reading the research that lead up to that conclusion.
If I still don't get the information that I want, I go back to Pubmed, and search on the plant name along with words like "constituents" or "analysis" to see if anyone has created an ingredients list for a particular plant extract and published it. Keep in mind plant compounds can vary a lot seasonally, and from region to region, for the same plant species.
5. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
There is an online version of this, which you have to subscribe to, and a mailbox sized book that weighs about 20 pounds, that they come out with every five years or so. I use both, but the online one is likely more up to date, so I use that one more. Both are over 100 dollars. Consider it a business expense if plants are your business.
I view this as sort of an extension of Pubmed, with more concise summaries on hundreds of popular remedies, sort of a Cliffs notes version that briefly lists risks, safety, active ingredients, theorized mechanisms of action (my personal favorite), likely effectiveness for various conditions. Each note has a reference that cites a study you can look up on Pubmed.
Like Pubmed it has the same caveats; just because a study is mentioned does not mean it has anything to do with reality; you should dig it up and read it and then look at the study's references and take a look a those too.
Both a pro and a con is that they include every damn study! Even the questionable ones that were not performed rigorously (placebo controlled double blind), so you have to go further and get more details of the study design from Pubmed (see above) and judge the value of the study for yourself.
There are a lot of toxicity references, for example, to someone in a case study who took five different herbs and then had liver failure, and then they go and cite every single herb as being a potential liver toxin, just to be prudent. I appreciate their cautious stance, but common sense tells you that not all five caused the problem. You have to dig a little further in the studies to figure this out.
What is great about this reference you quickly get a TON of very detailed information on almost any supplement or herb imaginable, which is updated online.
6. USDA Plants database
Where in the USA does this plant grow? Search on the Latin or common name, get a map of the plant's distribution. Don't go wandering all over Wisconsin looking for banana trees.
7. Freckmann herbarium
Where in Wisconsin does this plant grow?
This is a wonderful database! I use it all the time. You can look up either vascular plants or bryophytes, and a map of Wisconsin shows you where these have been spotted.
Find out if it is endangered or threatened or an invasive pest. There are additional off-site links to fungi and lichen databases.
A great reference to look up some mysterious chemical name and get a structure and references to abstracts that mention that chemical.
9. Alkaloids e-book
First written in 1996, some of the information is outdated, but stil good to take a look at. This is a detailed, free, online book, just click on the magnifying glass to search on the alkaloid. Thanks to the late Dr. Pelletier for compiling this data. You can find various volumes on the internet if you search for them.
This site also apparently publishes lots of unrelated things that require you put your blinders on. Yikes. Consider yourself warned.
10. Cytokines database
Can't remember whether interleukin 10 is pro- or anti-inflammatory? You need Cope With Cytokines. It has saved me many times. Worth supporting.
11. Plant physiology online.
Another searchable online text. Sometimes I just like to know which biochemical pathway a plant uses to make a particular molecule, and which plants use this pathway, etc.
Searchable, with lots of pharmacology info. Fun quizzes that humble me.
13. USDA food nutrient database
Search on a food to get quantitative nutritional information. Would you believe you can search on plants as uncommon as lambsquarters and salsify? You get a nutrient list per 100 grams of the food.
If you can't find the food on this database, there are some other more commercial websites you can try, but they are contaminated with ugly ads and questionable claims that you have to wear your blinders for, like nutritiondata.self.com/ and www.calorieking.com/ I cannot promise the data is accurate.
for plant taxonomy (with caveats, of course!)
It's surprising that a reference that can be edited by anyone, anywhere, can have as much reliable information as it does. But when it comes to strictly botanical information--and here I mean taxonomy, plant ID, distribution, history--it is surprisingly accurate. I mostly use it for taxonomy, distribution, and ID. When it comes to medical or therapeutic compounds in plants, people throw in all sorts of crap with antique references (if any) so that is all very hit and miss and worth raising a skeptical eyebrow over.
Wikipedia for chemicals
I love looking up the structure of a molecule on wikipedia, though usually go to IUPHAR or Pubchem first (see above). It is usually correct. They don't have all the molecules in the universe, but they have a lot.