A forensic pathologist has sounded a worldwide alert about the dangers of herbal medicines, saying "these substances may cause serious illnesses."
What Professor Roger Byard of the University of Adelaide writes in the Journal of Forensic Sciences is in reference to the false assumptions many people have about herbal medicines.
“There’s a false perception that herbal remedies are safer than manufactured medicines, when in fact many contain potentially lethal concentrations of arsenic, mercury and lead,” Professor Byard says.
“These substances may cause serious illnesses, exacerbate pre-existing health problems or result in death, particularly if taken in excess or injected rather than ingested.”
Professor Byard declares there can also be fatal consequences when some herbal medicines interact with prescription drugs. “As access to such products is largely unrestricted and many people do not tell their doctor they are taking herbal medicines for fear of ridicule, their contribution to death may not be fully appreciated during a standard autopsy.”
After examining 251 Asian herbal products that were found in stores in the United States, analysts found a significant level of harmful ingredients that included arsenic in 36 of them, mercury in 35 and lead in 24 of the products.
“Herbal medicines are frequently mixed with standard drugs, presumably to make them more effective. This can also have devastating results,” Professor Byard adds.
Not only can herbal medicines have a deleterious effect on individuals, the interaction of herbal medicines and traditional therapies can have very serious consequences, as Professor Byard explains. He tells his readers how St. Johns Wort can reduce the effects of warfarin and can also cause intermenstrual bleeding in those women who take oral contraceptive medications. Other herbal remedies such as gingko and garlic can increase the risk of bleeding. Borage Oil and Evening Primrose Oil can lower the threshold at which epileptic seizures can occur.
Around 30 percent of people in the United States use herbal medicines as do a high number of people in Canada and the United Kingdom. This is why Professor Byard underlines the significance of a worldwide warning on the use of herbal medicines.
Despite warnings such as these, articles, books and websites continue to proliferate and are devoted to recommending herbal medicines. The emphasis is on the curative value of these remedies, while few mention the problems taking them.
What's interesting is that not only are people able to buy herbal products, often without knowing the potential risks of some of them, plenty of places on the web give instruction on how to make Chinese herbal remedies, some of which, as noted in Byard's research, can cause harm.
The website gives information on how to make herbal medicines with an organized presentation, but without any apparent warnings for readers to review. Instead the warnings are directed towards the user making sure that he or she uses the right remedy for the right medical condition.
There are risks involved when taking herbs for medical purposes, doctors warn. This new research underlines what many doctors have noted for years: when in doubt check with your doctor.