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Herbal medicine may be causing more deaths than we know

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Posted October 26, 2018

Some people didn‘t get the memo what the 21st century is about. A lot of people are trying to heal themselves using herbal medicine, which in many cases is simply not effective. Furthermore, it can be dangerous. Scientists from the University of Adelaide are warning that deaths of health tourists due to tainted herbal medicine are heavily under-recorded.

Chinese herbal medicine is not always completely safe – users must be aware of potential risks. Image credit: OnDway901 via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Forensic pathologists have noticed long time ago that some deaths that can be linked to substance use are not just about drug overdose or some medical issues. Sometimes they occur due to tainted herbal medicine. It is quite a rare cause of death, which is why it is rarely checked during post-mortem examination. Now scientists are calling for more meticulous checks after post-mortem examination, because it is important to detect the presence of drugs and adulterants that originate from herbal remedies. For one, we simply have to know the cause of death. But it is also important to warn other health tourists that travel to exotic places just to use some herbal medicine products.

A lot of Western travellers go to Asian countries specifically to try traditional herbal medicine. There really is no shame in that as some of these people are just desperate for some hope. However, they should have all the information before making such a decision to move away from a more conventional treatment. Not only herbal medicines are often ineffective, but they can also be dangerous. This threat that is often overlooked because people think that by using herbs they are automatically avoiding dangerous substances. People in the herbal medicine business want to make more money by offering more effective products, which is why herbal medicine is often adulterated with approved or banned drugs and even toxic heavy metals.

Contents of these herbal drugs are typically unknown. You may think you are getting just a compound from one herb, but it can be mixed with various contaminants and pharmaceutical additives, some of which are actually dangerous. In post-mortem examination role of herbal medicine is usually underrated, which does not help determining the actual cause of death. Professor Roger Byard, forensic pathologist from the University of Adelaide, said: “When considering cases in which a person has died after taking herbal medicines sourced from overseas, forensic pathologists need to take extra care to consider the possibility that adulterants have played a role in the person’s demise”.

Herbal medicine can be helpful, but it should be held to a standard. You must know that no standards are applied to some of the old-school medicine in Asia and you are risking your health of even your life taking them.

 

Source: University of Adelaide

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