Herbal remedies fail to provide safety information on labels

According to a new study many herbal remedies are not free from side effects as commonly believed. Herbal medicines may not contain all the information that consumers need to use them safely said the study.

Investigators examined a number of popular herbal remedies for the completeness of their safety information. For example St John's wort can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills, Asian ginseng cannot be given to diabetics, Echinacea and Gingko can lead to allergies, garlic and gingko can cause blood thinning and interfere with drugs used to treat HIV etc.

St John’s wort, widely used to combat low moods. Ginkgo is said to improve circulation and alertness. Asian ginseng is used to boost the immune system and Echinacea is used to protect against colds. Garlic is used to lower high blood pressure

The analysis, published in Tuesday's issue of the journal BMC Medicine, showed that three-quarters of the products contained none of the key safety messages, meaning a lack of adequate safety information on the packaging could pose a threat to the uninformed consumer.

The researchers at Leeds University’s school of pharmacy surveyed 68 products on sale to the public and found 51 of them (75 per cent) contained no information on precautions, interactions with other medicines or side effects. Seventy per cent of them (48 of the 68 products) were marketed as food supplements, despite their powerful effects. Just three products contained sufficient information on risks and side-effects.  The products were bought at two health-food stores, three chain pharmacies and three supermarket chemists.

Under an EU directive in April this year, certain herbal medicines have to be licensed and carry health information, but of these five products, only St John’s wort and echinacea require a license. Of the 12 St John’s wort products surveyed by the Leeds researchers, four contained no safety messages, and of 13 echinacea products, nine failed to provide the required information.

Professor Theo Raynor, who led the study, said, “The best advice to consumers is ‘buyer beware’. Herbal medicines… should be taken with as much caution as any over-the-counter medicine. Any substance that affects the body has the potential to do harm if not taken correctly.” He advised consumers to look for the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) logo, which means remedies have been approved by the Government. “People should tell their doctor about herbal medicines they are taking so they receive the best care,” he added.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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