Herbal medicines and alternative therapies to treat health problems or to prevent them continue to grow in popularity among American consumers. While some herbal supplements may be effective and offer an overall positive impact for some people, they can also pose a serious risk to others.
According to an article in Healthline, roughly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. take herbal supplements to maintain or improve health, using natural substances. What they may not realize is that in many cases, the herbal supplement they are consuming has not undergone the same rigorous testing process conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that other medications are subject to. The Healthline article goes on to say:
Dietary supplement makers aren’t required to prove their supplements have any effects on health. And only ingredients developed after 1994 must be tested for safety before they hit the shelves.
If a supplement results in “adverse events,” however, the FDA can pull it. The agency used this authority to ban the herbal weight loss supplement ephedra in 2004 after it led to eight deaths. In 2013, the FDA recalled OxyElite after it led to several cases of liver failure.
“There are a lot of consumers out there who think that these products wouldn’t be on the market with these claims if they hadn’t been reviewed by some government agency. There’s a large number of people who think that and it’s a myth,” said Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices.
Furthermore, some supplements may pose serious health risks when combined with other medications. For example, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), St. John’s Wort, a traditional remedy for depression, anxiety and/or sleep disorders can interfere with other medications such as anti-depressants, birth control pills, seizure-control drugs and more, reducing their intended effects. Ginkgo, used by some to improve memory and treat or prevent dementia and sexual dysfunction, may increase bleeding risk, making it a potential problem for people who take anticoagulant drugs, suffer from bleeding disorders or who are undergoing surgery or certain dental procedures. Kava, used by some to treat anxiety, insomnia, and menopausal symptoms has been reported to cause liver damage and may interact with several drugs including drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
While the use of herbal supplements may be safe for many people, it’s wise to discuss possible risks with your medical provider before taking them – especially if you are taking other medications or planning medical procedures such as elective surgery. If you have questions about your herbal supplement and possible drug interactions, please visit any Owens Healthcare Location and ask to speak with one of our pharmacists.