Many people take some form of naturopathic or alternative remedy for a wide variety of reasons – a whopping $14.8 BILLION has been spent in the United States on herbal remedies in a single year. For most people, it’s the idea that the product is ‘natural’ that is attractive – it makes it seem as though these substances can only do good, and can do no harm. Be warned – it is due to the unfortunate lack of regulation of these products that this ‘do no harm’ idea has been successfully disseminated – but it is not true at all.
As nicely summarized in a recent article which I highly encourage you to read, dietary supplements are exempt from the usual medication regulation by the American FDA. This means that a product does not have to be proven effective or safe before it is put on the market. The only information we have about potential side effects of a herbal remedy is from voluntary reporting after the product is in use, which only represents a small fraction of the side effects that are happening but not being reported.
As an example from the world of herbal treatments of obesity, the article notes:
Even when the agency identifies an unsafe product, it lacks authority to mandate its removal from the market because it must meet the very high legal requirement to demonstrate “significant or unreasonable” risk. That is why it took the FDA more than 10 years to remove from the market ephedra-containing herbal weight-loss products that had caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of adverse events.
Other problems that limit the ability to understand these chemicals and herbs include:
- Inadequate labeling of the supplement – in other words, it’s not clear exactly what the product contains.
- Frequent unsound and illegal claims made by websites – a study investigating this found that staff at retail outlets have even been caught telling patients to take their herbs instead of prescription medications – which could have life threatening consequences.
- Herbal remedies can be tainted with undeclared prescription drugs and heavy metals – as noted in the recent article – “These tainted products can cause serious adverse events, including strokes, organ failure and death.”
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