Are Herbal Medicines Safe for Health?

Herbal Medical Shop

Many devotees of herbs often have a common misconception that herbal remedies are safe for health and don't cause any side effects. But the fact is they carry as same health risks as the conventional treatment and can cause you considerable harm.

In fact, the pitfalls of using herbal remedies are many, and there are a lot of myths to beware of! So if you wish to try alternatives to modern medicines, it’s important that you know all the facts.

Accordingly, in this article, I want to discuss some of the common misconceptions about herbal medicines.

Herbal medicines are natural so can’t be harmful.

Well, it’s true they’re from nature, but that doesn't simply mean they are all harmless and safe. All the fruits and vegetables we eat are obtained from nature, but does this mean they can’t cause any troubles/discomforts to our body. Of course, they certainly can! Even an onion can upset your stomach if you eat more of it.

Herbs have no side effects.

No offence, but it’s a blatant lie that manufacturers of these remedies publicize to promote their products. Many of our modern drugs are synthesized from herbs. If herbals can’t cause any harms, isn’t it strange that medicines derived from them are having side effects. Of course, herbs can cause serious side effects. But the fact is most of them are not tested for safety and efficacy through clinical trials.

Herbal products aren’t drugs.

Well, I think it’s a big regulatory loophole that these products are still considered to be dietary supplements rather than drugs. This means that the manufacturer only has to prove that the herb is safe for human consumption and has no obligation to determine whether the herb really works for what they claim. Manufacturers are allowed to make any statement they wish about the possible health benefits of a certain herb as long as they add the disclaimer, "these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease". No actual proof of an herb's benefit is required ― shades of the old-time medicine men travelling about in their wagons hawking snake oil to unsuspecting pioneers.

Herbal remedies do not interact with modern medicine.

This is a scary myth. There are some really serious interactions to watch out for. According to several studies, many of these products can cause dangerous drug-drug interactions with allopathic medicines as well as with other herbal remedies. Further, these herb-drug interactions could alter the efficacy and bioavailability of the prescription drugs.

One good example is statins. Some of the names you may recognize are lipitor and crestor. In the herbal world, red yeast rice is also considered a statin.

The interaction comes through goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), an herb often used as an immune stimulant. It's not best for that purpose, but is often bundled with Echinacea, which is also used to help boost the immune system. If statins and goldenseal are taken together, some serious muscle damage is likely to occur and renal failure is possible. This may be due to the berberine found in goldenseal.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not an herb hater. This post isn't written to demotivate people about herbal remedies, rather it is to dispel some of the common myths surrounding the alternative medical system.

Personally, I think herbs can be a wonderful alternative to our mainstream medical treatments. Since it is estimated that 80% of the world's population have used herbal remedies and as herbs have clearly been used for thousands of years, there must be some validity to their usefulness.

Image source: Gildemax (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

About Me

Welcome to Medical-Reference. My name is Imtiaz Ibne Alam. I'm a pharmacist and a freelance medical writer with 7+ years of experience in the health care industry.

I started this blog back in 2011 with an aim of making inaccessible medical information more accessible to general people. I don't know how far I'm successful in doing so, but I always give my best to debunk complex medical or scientific data and shearing those in a clear, concise way with my words.

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