Although herbal products and supplements are advertised as “natural,” they aren’t necessarily natural to the human body.Herbal products don’t have to be tested to prove they work well and are safe.
Don’t think that herbal health products and supplements are safer than medicines just because they occur in nature or come from plants. After all, many plants are poisonous! Although herbal products and supplements are advertised as “natural,” they aren’t necessarily natural to the human body.
Unlike prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, herbal products and supplements don’t have to be tested to prove they work well and are safe before they’re sold.
Also, they may not be pure. They might contain other ingredients, such as plant pollen, that could make you sick. Sometimes they contain drugs that aren’t listed on the label, such as steroids or estrogens.
Some of these products may even contain toxic (poisonous) substances, such as arsenic, mercury, lead and pesticides.
Hundreds of herbal products and supplements are available. They are advertised to treat just about any symptom. However, trustworthy evidence usually doesn’t exist to support these advertising claims.
Some of the most popular herbal products and supplements include chondroitin sulfate, echinacea, ephedra (also called ma huang), garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, glucosamine, kava, melatonin, phytoestrogens (such as black cohosh, dong quai and soy), saw palmetto and St. John’s wort.
Herbal products and supplements may not be safe if you have certain health problems. You also may be at increased risk of problems from these products if you are elderly. Talk to your doctor before taking herbal products if you have any of the following health problems:
If you are going to have surgery, be sure to tell your doctor if you use herbal products. Herbal products can cause problems with surgery, including bleeding and problems with anesthesia. Stop using herbal products at least 2 weeks before surgery, or sooner if your doctor recommends it.
Herbal health products or supplements can affect the way the body processes drugs. When this happens, your medicine may not work the way it should. For example, St. John’s wort reduces the amount of certain drugs absorbed by the body. This may mean the drugs aren’t absorbed at high enough levels to help the conditions for which they are prescribed. This can cause serious problems.
Herbal products and supplements may have other effects that aren’t listed in the box above. A few examples include the following:
Also, you shouldn’t take more than the recommended dose of any herbal health product or supplement. The problems that these products can cause are much more likely to occur if you take too much or take them for too long.
Studies suggest that 40% of patients do not tell their doctors that they use alternative therapies, which makes diagnosis of some bizarre reactions very difficult. Mainstream medicine does not have all the answers . Many of these remedies have not been studied for safety. Others have been studied for safety only when taken in conjunction with other medications. For example, many herbalists advise people on blood thinners to avoid ginkgo and ginseng. What can you do to ensure your health? First of all, always check the product label.Most importantly, seek medical diagnosis and known effective treatments for an underlying condition, before self-medicating yourself in any way.