Beware the herbal remedy

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There is often confusion over the difference between natural/herbal remedies, and homeopathic remedies, about which I’ve written plenty – see here, here and here for instance.

The difference between the two could not be more pronounced however: Homeopathy does NOTHING, other than hydrate you if it is in a liquid form, since it has virtually no active ingredients, while herbal medicines generally contain active ingredients and should therefore be treated with care.

To put it bluntly, herbal remedies contain naturally occurring substances – actually drugs – which can have a pharmacological effect on the body.

When the pharmaceutical industry develops drugs, they are subjected to a barrage of testing and approvals. They are tested for the different response obtained for different doses, and in different types of people. They are analysed for interactions with other drugs. They are assessed for side effects. We study how the drug is absorbed and metabolised by the body, and how it flows through the body, and whether is builds up over time in various organs to eventually cause a problem. The list goes on. For this reason, it can take years for a good idea to be approved for sale to the public. It has to be said though, that even then there can be problems, as we saw not long ago in the case of Vioxx, a popular arthritis drug which was shown to cause an increase in heart problems.

However, in the main, the vast majority of medications which are approved by government agencies work as advertised, and generally make our life better.

The concern with herbal remedies is this: they can be sold with NO testing of any kind, the advertised doses of active ingredients can vary dramatically between a similar weight of base material (e.g. a leaf), and there is no analysis of how they will affect your particular body or interact with other medications. A list has been compiled here showing the significant side effects or interactions with other medicines which have been identified.

If you must pursue herbal remedies, then please ensure you consult a real doctor about possible side effects, or at least be aware of the list above before dosing up.


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