Although herbs are "natural," they are not necessarily safe. Many plants survive in nature by producing a variety of chemicals that either taste bad or are poisonous to their predators. Some of these chemicals can be poisonous to humans, oftentimes in a dose-dependent manner. For this reason, when taking herbs, staying within the recommended dose ranges is very important. More is not necessarily better; exceeding the recommended dose may even be dangerous.
A Answers (6)
Boston Women's Health Book Collective, answered
Many popular medicinal herbs are benign, but some are not. So, it is a good idea to learn as much as you can about the herbs that you take. For example, St. John's wort can decrease the levels of many conventional drugs. When combined with birth control pills, it can result in accidental pregnancies.
Robin Miller, Integrative Medicine, answered
Just because an herb is considered natural does not mean it is safe. Herbal remedies do not undergo the intense scrutiny that prescription drugs go through in the United States. Sometimes the remedies, especially from foreign countries, may be contaminated with things such as lead or mercury and even western medications. In some cases the herb may be perfectly fine, but when taken in conjunction with other medications it can be harmful and even potentially deadly.
St. John’s Wort is an herb that is used by many to treat depression. What many people do not realize is that it can decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills and result in an unwanted pregnancy. It also can interfere with drugs that are taken by people who have had organ transplants and increase the chance for organ rejection.
There are two reputable groups that herb companies use to assure that their products are good. The United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) are systems with a set of standards that must be followed to assure the quality of any supplement. If you are considering taking an herbal remedy make sure that USP or GMP is on the label and check it out with your health care provider to find out if there are any potential interactions with your medications.
Julia Schlam Edelman, Obstetrics & Gynecology, answeredNatural preparations and nutritional supplements in the United States have no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety precautions in place. As a result, one can purchase a remedy that contains too much of an ingredient in one dose and too little of an active ingredient in another dose. They also are not required to list side effects or warnings about use or possible interactions with other products or prescriptions. This leads to the false impression that they are safer. Further, if there is a precaution, such as sun sensitivity, the manufacturer of an over-the-counter remedy is not required to disclose it on the packaging.
Just because a natural remedy does not have any precautions written on the package, it does not mean that there are no safety considerations. For example, St. John's wort is an over-the-counter remedy that relieves mild depression. Studies have shown that it is effective. It can cause abnormal bleeding, however, when taken by those on oral contraceptives (birth control pills). Further, St. John's wort is not safe to take at the same time as a prescription antidepressant medication such as Prozac or Paxil.
Manufacturers of over-the-counter remedies are not required to prove that the remedy produces the desired effect. While a prescription medication must include the percent of individuals that can expect to benefit, the over-the-counter remedy does not have to show any proof that it works, how often it works, or in whom it works best. Nor do manufacturers have to specify who should avoid these remedies. When you read the material included with a natural remedy, you may be reading the equivalent of a television commercial.
In addition, the length of time that it is safe to take natural remedies is not well established with sound research. Aside from issues of safety, there is lack of proof that some of the natural remedies actually work; proof of the remedy's effectiveness is not required to sell it, as long as it is not classified as a drug.
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Jerry Gordon, Dentistry, answeredHerbal medications have increased in popularity over the last decade, and are sometimes used in addition to prescription drugs. Because herbal medications are easy to purchase (at holistic food stores, on the Internet, etc.) and have "all natural" origins, many people feel that these remedies are merely harmless substances. These medications, however, are not just ground up herbs, but are actually derived from the potent oils of the plants. These natural medications are capable of dangerous drug interactions that can put a person at an increased risk for a complication during and after medical and dental treatment.
Doris Day, MD, Dermatology, answeredMany of the “natural” herbal remedies on the market today have never been tested, and may give you disappointing or sometimes even dangerous results. Certain herbal remedies can be good and of course they have been around for centuries. Still, there are two major concerns that need to be addressed before you start taking an oral herbal product or using a topical herbal treatment. The first is whether or not the herbal treatment may have an adverse interaction with any prescription or over-the-counter medications you are taking. Consult with your doctor and your pharmacist before ingesting or applying any herbal treatments. Second, keep in mind the fact that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the companies that make herbal products or check to be sure their products really do what they claim to do or contain adequate concentrations or equivalent concentrations from batch to batch of the ingredients to be effective.