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Traditional herbal medicine is safe and natural? Nope, it may be toxic

Posted February 8, 2017

Just because herbal medicine seems to be natural people should not consider it safe. Image credit: AlejandroLinaresGarcia via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

There is a common misconception that everything coming from nature must be good for our health. And surely a lot of times it is pretty accurate, but without proper scientific research one should not expect every single herb to be beneficial. This simple truth has proven once more by the University of Adelaide researchers.

People usually think that if something comes from nature and has been used by people for hundreds of years, it does not need further scientific evidence about its effectiveness. Their argument is quite simple – if a treatment or home remedy survived the test of time, it cannot be harmful in any way. However, this new study says ancient medicine may not be that innocent – scientists found that there are toxic chemicals from animals and plants, as well as heavy metals and pesticides in some traditional remedies. Furthermore, scientists say that despite the lack of reports of side effects, these herbal preparations can cause significant damage to one’s health – even kidney failures, to be exact.

These results are quite alarming. Although advancements of modern medicine are undeniable, many people choose to use some traditional herbal preparations alongside approved treatment. And these people usually do not inform their doctor about such choice, because they consider these preparations not to be medicine. For many of them, it is just something that may or may not help, but certainly cannot hurt. This is a big problem, because herbal medicine can interact badly with conventional treatment or even with other herbal medicine. Therefore, taking herbal medicine without talking to a doctor is a bad idea, especially because this sector is poorly regulated.

Scientists say that herbal medicine is often poorly described too. Dr Ian Musgrave, co-author of the study, explained: “In some cases ingredients are either not listed or their concentrations are recorded inaccurately on websites or labels. In other cases a botanical species may be replaced with another if it is difficult to source or too expensive. The replacement species may be potentially toxic”. Furthermore, some manufacturers may be fooling their customers, by putting some actual conventional medicine into their products, to increase their effectiveness.

So are there any solutions to this problem. Scientists are pointing fingers are legislature – policy makers should make steps towards better regulation of the sector. However, people themselves should refuse to be pushed around in marketing schemes – just because someone was using it for ages, it does not mean it is safe.


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