Concerns raised over herbal remedy health risks

Caroline Cassidy

Herbal remedies have been used for centuries and have been growing in popularity in recent years. But new research has revealed many consumers may be unaware of the potential risks involved.

Herbal remedy health risks
Herbal remedy health risks

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A study by Leeds University's School of Pharmacy looked at 68 products, different versions of the five most popular remedies - St John's wort, Asian ginseng, echinacea, garlic and ginkgo.

A total of 51 (75 per cent) contained no precautionary information with regards to possible side effects or problems arising from interaction with other medicines, while some 70 per cent were marketed as food supplements.

Only three of the products surveyed were deemed to include sufficient information about potential risks.

An EU directive that came into play earlier this year means some herbal remedies must be licensed and carry the necessary health information - of the five different remedies studied only St John's wort and echinacea required such warnings.

However, researchers found four St John's wort products that failed to include safety messages and nine echinacea products from which warnings were missing.

Many consumers buy herbal remedies assuming they are safe but St John's wort, for instance, can reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill while another popular remedy, Ginkgo, is a blood-thinner and could cause problems for those already taking medication.

Professor Theo Raynor, who led the study, said: "The best advice to consumers is 'buyer beware'. Herbal medicines... should be taken with as much caution as any over-the-counter medicine.

"Any substance that affects the body has the potential to do harm if not taken correctly. People should tell their doctor about herbal medicines they are taking so they receive the best care."

What do you think - should herbal remedies contain safety warnings? Leave a comment below...