Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Are Herbal Supplements Safe?

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Herbalism (Photo credit: Nomadic Lass)

Throughout history, healers have procured their remedies from the forest, garden and plant world.  Some “natural” products may be harmless while others are potentially toxic.  Other dangerous problems may arise when the dose is dangerous from improper doses not regulated to any great extent.  Herbal products may be mislabeled, adulterated by prescription drugs or contaminants (e.g. lead) or vary greatly in potency.

Overall, herbal products should be used with great caution and in consultation with a person’s primary physician.  Pregnant and nursing women, children under 2 years of age, those over 65, and anyone with a chronic disease (e.g. diabetes or heart disease) should not take herbal supplements unless their physician  consents to the practice and monitors them for potential complications.

Ginseng, for example, a common herbal supplement may cause hypertension, asthma attacks, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, headache, nervousness, GI tract upset, or reduced blood clotting. That’s quite a list of possible side effects especially when studies have not confirmed any benefit.

Even some herbal teas may be harmful.  Avoid any tea containing senna or comfrey.  Diarrhea and/or liver damage can occur depending on the dose.


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One thought on “Are Herbal Supplements Safe?

  1. Sennas have for millennia played a major role in herbalism and folk medicine. Alexandrian senna (S. alexandrina) has long been traded commercially.

    Senna glycosides, or sennosides, are used in modern medicine as laxatives.[14] Senna drugs contain the dried leaves of S. alexandrina. The glycosides increase gastric fluid secretion and bowel motility, producing laxative action. Senna preparations are available in powders, granules, tablets, oral infusions, and syrups. It is also available in combination with the dietary fiber psyllium to add bulk to the bowel contents.[15] The products are only recommended for short-term use, and chronic use and abuse of senna has been associated with organ failure.[16]


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