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Natural Medicine – Is It Safe?

01 Jul 2015

Clinicians of every discipline enjoy sayings such as “time is brain” and “common things are common.” Yet, surely no medical saying is better known than “first do no harm” or, to use the Latin phrase, “primum non nocere.” Contrary to popular belief, this phrase does not appear in the Hippocratic Oath or the Hippocratic corpus (Hippocrates wrote in Greek, not Latin). Rather the saying is attributed to Thomas Inman, as recently as 1860. That same year Oliver Wendell Holmes (Snr) famously remarked in a lecture to the Massachusetts Medical Society, “If the whole material medica, as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind—and all the worse for the fishes” He observed that the injuries caused by overmedication were often masked by the disease.

There is a misconception that herbal medicines have relatively fewer side effects that regular or allopathic medicine and is completely benign and non-toxic. This is because natural sources tend to be metabolized easier by the body or are they? Qualified herbalists and naturopaths understand that even herbal medicine can potentially be unsafe to certain people or groups of people.

Your top 3 reasons why we should question our herbal supplement:

1. The potential for negative side effects. “Im tired and I just want to get a good night’s sleep”. Ingredients in an over the counter formula such as 5HTP or St John’s wort is contraindicated with prescribed medication especially antidepressants. Those who take warfarin for blood thinning should be very careful about taking a variety of supplements or herbs and always consult their health professional before taking them. Herbal medicines are now required to be adequately labeled with precautionary information outlining potential side effects.

2. The international trade in poor quality unregulated herbal products is very profitable – for the supplier. Now we can order over the internet but many of these herbal preparations are not always subjected to government regulations. They can contain harmful additives or herbs not permitted in countries like New Zealand. Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicines are often adulterated (sometimes knowingly) with heavy metals for example. Quality of herbals need always to comply with a Pharmacopoeia which sets out minimal allowable levels of microbial contamination, pesticide residues, heavy metals and active constituents to name a few.

4. Always find out who wrote the research around a supplement as quite often it was done by the company who produced it in the first place! The need for more clinical trials and studies on how well herbs work and how safe they are is not economically viable for many drug companies and government research agencies. Therefore any unbiased research outlining the safety of many herbal preparations is slow in coming.

Tags: balance, Health, Herbals, herbs, Natural Medicine, Supplements

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