These are an immensely popular alternative to modern medicine and used worldwide.
The trend continues to grow in spite of many governments doing their best to stem their growth and bring in new legislation - because they fear that the pharmaceutical companies will lose out - but not
through any concern for the general public.
The irony is that herbal supplements have a really safe track record while hundreds of thousands of people die every year from prescribed pharmaceutical drugs. There is an older article online entitled “Where are the Bodies?”
one of many which attest to this wonderful safety record.
Herbs can be extremely powerful and users should exercise caution
Even if a herbal supplement is not mislabeled, it might not list or even be able to list any possible interaction between using different drugs (or multiple drugs) and herbal supplements. Unfortunately, it is often unknown what side effects can be produced from taking multiple pharmaceutical drugs as little or no appropriate testing is done. Such side effects can often be considerable. If you add in herbal supplements to the equation, there may be further side effects with certain combinations. A large proportion of those on prescription medications also take herbal supplements.
The following herbal supplements need to be labeled as reacting with coumadin
(which is a popular blood thinning pharmaceutical drug): danshen, dong quai, evening primrose oil, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng
and St. John's wort
It is also important to know and to include on any label that ginkgo
taken with ibuprofen
may lead to spontaneous and/or excessive bleeding.
In addition, high doses of garlic may enhance the the effects and adverse effects of anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, including aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), enoxaparin (Lovenox)
The following herbs are considered toxic and their possible side effects are included below
- Chapparal -- kidney and liver damage.
- Comfrey — liver toxicity; damage to fetus if used during pregnancy.
- Ephedra/ma huang — hypertension, myocardial infarction (MI), seizure, stroke, phychosis.
- Germander — liver damage and damage.
- Lobelia — breathing problems, rapid heartbeat, coma, death.
- Kombucha — risk of contamination when prepared at home; risk of transmission of infectious microorganisms and lead.
- Willow bark — Reye’s syndrome in children.
- Wormwood — seizures, rhabdomyolysis (muscle fiber breakdown), kidney failure.
- Yohimbe — hypotension (low blood pressure), heart conduction disorders. This tree bark, believed by some to be an aphrodisiac and used to treat impotence, has also been linked to suicidal behavior, psychosis, kidney failure, seizures, and death.
Herbal laxatives that claim to include the weed plantain should be avoided as some of these products actually contain the herb digitalis lanata
, the source of the heart medicine digitalis
. When taken improperly, this herb can cause irregular heartbeats and heart attacks.
Unlike drugs, herbs are not standardized
When you buy a drug, even an over-the-counter one, you know that each capsule contains the same amount of active ingredient but doses differ between herb capsules and from product to product. The active ingredients also vary depending on the plant part (flower, root, seeds, nuts, bark, branch), plant form (dried, extract, tincture, tea) and plant species. For example, an independent test by Consumer Lab on a variety of ginko biloba supplements found that many brands did not provide the expected ingredients. Only three ginkgo supplements passed Consumer Lab’s tests.
So as with everything else in life, you need to be aware and informed
If you are interested in herbs, Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs
is the plant bible and provides sound information for the curious mind. When growing or harvesting your own herbs (of course without the benefit of labeling) be aware that the strength of herbal preparations varies with stage of growth, soil fertility, time of harvest, post-harvest treatment and more. The wrong strength or applied in the wrong way could be very risky or even lethal.
Most of us will use herbal supplements available from the local health store or ordered online
You can read a very helpful guide to buying vitamins and supplements here.
When deciding on an herbal supplement for yourself or a member of your family, read the label. Start by reading any warnings. If nothing applies to you, check the ingredients. If you have allergies to certain products, be sure they aren't on the ingredient list. Then check the expiration date, storage instructions and dosage information. Finally, look to see what kind of fillers are used. Sometimes these are called “flowering agents.” How much herb or supplement are you actually getting and how much filler? All of this information will help you to make an informed choice. By the way - be even more diligent when checking pharmaceutical drugs.
Most important to get your head around is whether they are even necessary in the first place.
On researching this topic, I have found little current evidence to suggest any mislabeling of herbal supplements. It might have happened in previous decades but it would appear that there are strict guidelines regarding the labelling which producers of herbal supplements have to adhere to.
There is an ongoing threat to all herbal supplements by the FDA and various senators who put forward proposed bills to target herbal supplements and natural health. The USA is not alone as the EU is equally determined to limit the success of herbal supplements in the market place. If you are interested in finding out more about the politics behind the scenes, you can subscribe to the Alliance for Natural Health
who will keep you informed on their various campaigns.
Today, many people using herbal supplements are loathe to inform their doctors of such use because of the disdain shown to them by many in the medical profession. Of course this can cause problems but many doctors have brought it upon themselves because their recommended resolution of the conflict between herb and drug always will be to discontinue the herb and a preference for continued pharmaceutical medication.
There is an alternative. Turn to a naturopath instead.