Herbs: What You Don't Know, Can Hurt You

Herbal supplements may be leaving out important information

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When you buy herbal supplements do you notice possible side effects? You probably don't even think about it since most supplements don't have that information available.

Researchers have found that many over-the-counter herbal supplements are lacking important information. The possible side effects from taking these kinds of supplements should be listed so consumers know the potential risks involved.

"Take caution when buying over-the-counter herbal supplements."

Lead researcher, Theo Raynor, professor of pharmacy at the University of Leeds, analyzed 68 products of commonly used remedies which included St. John’s wort, Asian ginseng, Echinacea, garlic and Ginkgo.

St. John’s wort has a possible side effect of reducing the effectiveness of contraceptive pills. Diabetic patients should not use Asian ginseng. Some people may have allergic reactions to Echinacea. Garlic supplements can thin the blood of some people and interfere with HIV treatment.

The researchers found that 93 percent of these products did not have to follow any safety standard. Only 13 percent of the products provided some information while three products had acceptable safety information.

Raynor cautions all herbal supplement users to be wary of over-the-counter drugs because whether they are natural or not, all drugs have the potential to cause harm.

Herbal medicines should be purchased where trained professionals are so consumers can determine if the herbal supplement is suitable for them, Raynor suggests.

Diane Shiao, P.T., M.S.P.T., D.P.T., fitness and chinese medicine expert, says, "Taking herbal remedies and vitamins can be beneficial to the body if one is generally healthy and if the supplements are complementary to the body. But, there is limited information on the labels of supplements mainly because there is a lack of research and hence a lack of information to state on the labels." 

"The FDA does not set the standards for companies quality control, so guidelines can vary greatly from one company to the next. Speak with a health professional because some supplements can counteract medications," Shiao warns.

The research is published in BioMed Centrals open access journal BMC Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 9, 2011
Last Updated:
August 15, 2011