You’ve heard of natural herbal remedies promising to heal your ailments. Unfortunately, just because manufacturers label their products as “all natural” doesn’t mean they’re safe.
The Dietary Supplement Health Education Act categorizes herbal remedies as dietary supplements instead of drugs. Because of this, herbal remedies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Lack of FDA oversight allows herbal supplements to be sold without any proof they are safe. Since they’re made from plants, you may think they are risk free, but that isn’t the case. Like any drug, if it’s strong enough to help you, it’s strong enough to hurt you.
Risks of Common Herbal Remedies
Herbal remedies can cause dangerous side effects when taken with prescription medications. The major risks are liver and kidney damage, but there are other side effects as well. Below are some of the most common herbal supplements and the risks associated with them:
- John’s Wort: Thought to treat depression, this supplement is often used in conjunction with prescription anti-depression medication. It has caused women on birth control to become pregnant. It has also increased the chances of organ rejection for those taking anti-rejection medication.
- Chaparral: Historically used to reduce pain, inflammation, and skin irritation, but there is little evidence it helps with any of these. The FDA listed chaparral as a poisonous plant in 1997. It has the potential to cause irreversible liver damage and cause deadly interactions with blood thinners, anti-inflammatory medication, and some anti-depressants.
- Ephedra: Some think this supplement treats coughs and helps with obesity. In reality, it can increase heart rate and blood pressure to dangerous levels and has fatal reactions with cardiac medication.
- Kava: Some people find that kava reduces their anxiety. The National Institutes of Health and FDA discourage people from taking it since it can lead to liver damage and death in a short period of time. Additionally, kava can cause nerve damage, skin problems, depression, and complications for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and has adverse interactions with sedatives.
- Garlic: Many people take garlic supplements to help lower cholesterol and treat the common cold. Despite its successes in these areas, garlic can severely increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood thinners.
- Ginkgo: Praised for improving circulation and memory, ginkgo can also cause increased bleeding when combined with blood thinning medication.
- Comfrey: This supplement is known to help heal wounds, bruises, sprains, and bone fractures. It can also damage the liver and lungs.
- Bitter orange: Bitter orange has been used for weight loss, allergies, and nasal congestion, but it can affect the body the same way ephedra does. It can also cause fainting, strokes, heart problems, and death.
- Licorice root: In the past, licorice root has been administered to treat coughs, cirrhosis, and stomach ulcers. Unfortunately, it can also increase blood pressure and cause arrhythmia in the heart.
Using Herbal Remedies Safely
Not all herbal remedies are bad, but it can be hard to know which products are safe. You should always consult with your doctor before taking any herbal supplement, especially if you are using other medications.
The following tips can help you decide if an herbal remedy is safe to use:
- Research the product. Find studies on the supplement you want to use. Both the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Office of Dietary Supplements has ample information available.
- Check for Quality Seals. There are three quality seals that alert consumers of contaminants in herbal supplements: The US Pharmacopeia seal, the National Sanitation Foundation seal, and the Cooperman’s Consumer Lab seal. A supplement with all three of these seals indicates that the ingredients listed are accurate and that contaminants don’t exceed toxic levels.
- Talk to the manufacturer. If you or your doctor has questions, call the manufacturer.
- Make sure tablets dissolve. Some herbal tablets don’t break down in the body and can cause major issues. Before you take an herbal tablet, put it in room temperature water for 45 minutes. If it falls apart, your body can break it down. If it doesn’t, it’s not going to be easily digested.
- Follow package directions. Never take any herbal supplement longer or at a higher dosage than recommended.
- Don’t combine supplements. Only take one at a time so you can know what its effects are. You should keep a record of what you’re taking, how long you’re taking it, and how it affects you.
- Know where your supplements come from. Many countries have strict regulations in place to control herbal supplements. Countries like China, Mexico and India are not as strict and could be producing dangerous products.
- Stay up-to-date on alerts. Both the FDA and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health post alerts and advisories for dangerous herbal remedies and supplements.
Who Shouldn’t Take Herbal Supplements
There are some people who are high risk when taking herbal supplements. These include:
- People using prescription drugs
- People taking blood thinners or blood pressure medicine
- Women who are breastfeeding, pregnant, or have a chance of becoming pregnant
- People scheduled for an upcoming surgery
- People under 18 or over 65 years old
Contacting a Dangerous Drug Attorney
Herbal remedies should be used in moderation and only with your doctor’s approval. That said, even an approved supplement can cause adverse side effects.
The North Carolina attorneys at the Law Offices of Michael A. DeMayo have helped many individuals recover settlements after they were injured by a dangerous drug. No matter what supplement may have hurt you or your loved one, contact us for a free consultation at 877-529-1222.