Friday, August 1, 2008

Herbal Supplements are Bad News

In today’s and yesterday's paper, another news story about a fatality due to an herbal supplement. While not directly causing the death, this drug hidden in the "herbal medicine" caused the driver to fall asleep while driving. Meanwhile, because these supplements are not regulated to the degree they should be, there was an additional drug in there that was addictive and harmful and is not approved for sale in Canada. The irony is that this additional drug was probably added to actually make the herbal remedy work.

I love plants (obviously) and they are useful medically, but even I am suspicious of the claims made by some of these companies selling herbal remedies. Most of the clinical trials done by researchers were poorly designed, so the claims cannot be attributed to the plants. Conversely, the medicines that are appropriately made from plants have been researched, studied and have been standardized so that everytime you take that ASA (aspirin) pill, you are guaranteed to receive a certain amount of the active ingredient. The active ingredient/compound from the plant has been extracted so that instead of chowing down on a whole tree’s worth of willow bark, one or two pills can do the job.

As of yet (in Canada), there are less regulations regarding herbal remedies than normal, everyday food we consume. All ingredients on normal foodstuffs must be list in order of quantity. We have no such laws regarding herbal medicines. The actual “active herb” may not even be found in the pills, or a minute quantity is found, and the rest is filling. These amounts can vary from batch to batch, so results cannot be verified.

So until more research (by reputable scientists) can be done, please DO NOT buy herbal supplements. Even if they are famous brand names, they are not regulated enough and do not list every ingredient. This is not just a waste of your money, it can ruin your health or kill you like the man from the news story.

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