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Herbal Medicine’s Hidden Risks Pose a Threat to Health

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The perception that herbal medicines are safe because they are derived from natural materials and have been in use for thousands of years could see people unknowingly putting their health at risk, according to a report in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The report highlights a range of issues relating to the preparation of complementary medicines, warning that some traditional herbal preparations contain toxic chemicals from both animals and plants, as well as heavy metals and pesticides.

“Toxic side-effects of herbal medicines used in traditional societies have typically not been reported, and this is often cited in favour of their safety,” says lead author Prof Roger Byard of The University of Adelaide. “However, the lack of systematic observation has meant that even serious adverse reactions, such as the kidney failure and liver damage caused by some plant species, have gone unrecognised until recently.”

More than half of people using complementary medicines, including herbal products, do not inform their doctors. “The problem with this is that drug interactions are poorly recognised in herbs,” says co-author Dr Ian Musgrave. “Not only can herbal medicines interact with traditional pharmaceutical medicines but also with other herbal medicines the patient may be using.”

The authors say that due to relatively light regulation of the industry...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.