`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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