How often do we hear the statement above? Many of us think that herbal preparations are safe for consumption as there is no side effects, or so we think.
I would say that it is true that herbal preparations tend to be safer as they constitute a mixture of active ingredients. These ingredients act on different receptor sites, the sum of which results in the symptomatic treatment of the disease state. The effect is therefore not concentrated on one receptor. Since the herbal preparation is made up of more than one ingredients, the individual components are diluted by the presence of other components. So will the effects of the various components in the herb.
Western medicines / drugs however act based on the effect of one active ingredient which acts on one receptor and targets only one aspect of a symptom. The action of the ingredient may also give rise to other effects, some of which may be undesirable.
This explanation is one possible reason why herbs tend to have milder effects. The fact is, we do not know for certain the safety of many herbal preparations. Neither do we know about its efficacy. There is not much studies done to prove its efficacy or how it acts on the body. There is also not much studies done to show its side effects. Manufacturers are not required to provide evidence in the marketing of these herbal preparations as they are treated as supplements by the regulatory bodies.
The use of herbs is therefore largely based on tradition. So are herbs really entirely safe?
There have been reported adverse reactions to herbs. Gingko biloba, widely used to improve cognitive function has been associated with spontaneous bleeding and St. John’s Wort, used in depression, has been shown to affect the functioning and level of certain neurotransmitters. Many side effects arise when herbs are used together with drugs and this information is not conveyed to the healthcare provider.
There are some drugs that originate from natural sources. Aspirin from the bark of willow tree. Morphine from poppy plant. The antibiotic penicillin comes from a mould.
Source: Garden Time TV (2009, June 30) Medicinal Plants [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=091DDL2j3-I
The next time someone claims that a treatment is safe because it is natural, the next step is to find out more information about this natural remedy. We should find out if there has been reported adverse effects of this remedy and under what circumstances this adverse event took place.
If a person is taking a herb regularly, he should inform his health care provider about it so that treatment can be adjusted to avoid any possible side effects.