`Dangerous' Herbal Medicine in the News

Caveat emptor – “Let the Buyer Beware” – not usually a principle applied to herbal medicine, but it should be.

Recently in the news there has been much talk about toxic herbal cures and herbal remedies having devastating effects. And while these headlines are attention getting and sensational, they may also have a detrimental effect on herbal medicine and how it is perceived by the public at large.

I have always made a big point about safety, educating yourself about the properties of the herbs you take, learning about possible interactions with other drugs and assuring that the products you buy come from reputable sources which offer a consistently high quality. To me this is totally common sense.  But it would seem that there are people out there who believe any old advertisement, buy exotic cure alls which may end up doing more harm than good.

Last week The Australian reported some details of herbal interactions and considerations that people may not be aware of :

“St John’s wort, commonly taken for depression, anxiety and sleep disorders, was known to interfere with medication prescribed for irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, he said.

Ginkgo biloba, which is said to improve circulation, raises the risk of excessive bleeding in those taking warfarin or aspirin. Garlic, taken in high concentrations in pills, could also interfere with warfarin.”

If you have a serious health issue, you must always tell your health professional.  They SHOULD have information about interactions with your present medication. If they do not, ASK them to find out for you.

A few days ago, again in The Australian,  health editor Adam Cresswell warns readers of herbal products that are not as they appear. He cites several cases where children were treated with remedies from far away places that were contaminated with seriously dangerous substances like arsenic and heavy metals. In this article Roger Byard, a forensic pathologist at the University of Adelaide warns of the dangers of herbal medicines whereas “Marc Cohen, professor of complementary medicine at RMIT, backed the call for patients to tell their doctors about their herbal treatments, but rejected Professor Byard’s warnings as “alarmist”. “If you looked at the number of food poisoning cases, and the number of toxins in food, you wouldn’t go near it,” Professor Cohen said. “Everyone needs to be careful with anything they put in their mouth . . . Herbal medicines are safe, and are relatively well-regulated in Australia.”

Marc Cohen is co-author of a  fantastic book that I refer to frequently.  Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide

It lists 120 of the most popular herbs, nutrients and food supplements used across Australia and New Zealand, giving details on daily intake, main actions/interactions, adverse reactions and drug interactions.  A must have if you are serious about SAFE natural health for your loved ones.

As usual it’s all about education and moderation. Dont try to treat a family member’s cancer with an exotic wonder drug that you havent first researched and run by the appropriate medicos.  It’s insane to think that just because it is natural it is always safe.

As a side note, but and IMPORTANT side note: If you wild craft, i.e. gather your herbs in the wild, make sure that you correctly identify the plants you are picking and be aware of the environment they grew in.  There is no point picking at the side of a major highway or in an area of heavy industry. Chances are that the plants have absorbed a lot of nasties from the air and could possibly be very dangerous to your health.

If you buy over the internet from unknown sources – do your research before you risk your health and that of your family.

Caveat emptor – “Let the Buyer Beware” – not usually a principle applied to herbal medicine, but it should be.

Stay herbal

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5 Responses to `Dangerous' Herbal Medicine in the News

  1. We get a lot of this nonsense in the states too. Glad you have a voice of sanity in Marc Cohen. Our MD databases of “dangerous” herbs and supplements are full of mis-identified substances that pharmacokinetically would be unable to do things attributed to them.And the highest number of deaths from herbs or any other plant (including teens abusing “herbal exstasy” or children eating houseplants was 47. Versus 20,000 anually from NSAIDS.

    • anke says:

      Yes, they do like to blow these things right out of proportion dont they?
      You are certainly not a lone in the States. I am a bit of a fan of Marc Cohen, it’s nice to have a voice for common sense when it comes to these things.
      I have to say I am totally biased because I come from Germany originally and there herbal medicine is practised by every local MD to some extend. And that way products are better managed and identified as well. It’s just seen as natural to utilise healing plants as well as pharmaceuticals. I know China and some other Asian countries are similar …hmm was it India?….anyway I wish it was like that everywhere. It just makes sense!

  2. chips says:

    My grand mother was the local herbal doctor back in the eighteen hundreds in a small village wales uk, i have been useing dried herbal drinks for the past (20) years for different ailment that come along from time to time, my wife became ill on two different occasions after taking dried herbal drinks both complaints went away and never came back

    • anke says:

      What a wonderful family history! I am glad your wife got over whatever reactions she had.
      There are occasions when a remedy that is considered safe causes a reaction in a person. There are so many individual differences from one person to the next that it is near impossible to assure safety 100%. For example, almost everyone can safely drink chamomile tea. However, should a person have an allergy to ragweed, they may find that they suffer adverse reactions after chamomile as well.

      I tried Chinese Herbal Medicine a little while back. The Chinese doctor prescribed all manner of roots and berries which I boiled up according to instructions until I was left with an unappetising sludge. The taste was quite bearable but I ended up in spots all over my body. We tried it a few different times with various combinations but i ended up spotty again and again. In the end i have decided that Chinese decoctions are just too strong for me.

  3. chinese decoctions are just too strong for me also anke. one of my favorite herbs is comfrey. here in the united states it is almost like saying a shocking thing as so many ppl do not understand about it and it is on the powers that be no no list. common sense should always be the rule. research and enpower yourself before taking any medical treatment is what i say!
    what a lovely history of herbal usage in your family chips!

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