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- Herbal medicines- Safety?

S. Vasanti


Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, S.V.K.M’S, Dr. Bhanuben Nanavati College of Pharmacy, Mithibhai College Campus, V.M. Road, Vile Parle- (W), Mumbai - 400 056, India; Phone: +91-022 26134557-58 (off.); Fax: +91-022 26132905; Email: [email protected]

Article submitted on April 2, 2008 Article published on April 10, 2008

◊ An article from S. Vasanti, (2008 April 10). Herbal medicines- Safety? Retrieved from 





There has been a virtual explosion of interest in all kinds of alternative therapies, in particular those, which have been traditionally around for thousands of years. For the chronic diseases where there is no "cure" and in which synthetic drugs typically produce side effects, people look for alternative remedies. The use of herbal heritage has become a part of general health care by the tribes since time immemorial. The use of modern medicines of synthetic origin is believed to impart dramatic results in a short span in the treatment but has a hidden drawback of serious afterward consequences on the health on prolonged treatment. This is attributed to various pathological, pharmacological and chrono-pathological parameters of mankind. Traditional medicaments designated nowadays as herbal drugs in different places in literature, have retained their place in therapy.

The World Health Assembly emphasized the need to ensure quality control of medicinal plants with appropriate modern techniques and suitable standards, as it is estimated that about 80% of the people living in developing countries mainly depend upon herbal drugs for their preliminary health care needs. The World Health Organization, to achieve their goal of “health for all” has recommended to all member countries to actively promote native medicines of their country as well as to initiate steps to conserve and/or to cultivate medicinal plants so that genuine raw materials become rapidly available to a large section of population. Common reasons for use of herbal drugs include health promotion; disease prevention; poor outcomes and limited treatment options for a serious illness; exhaustion of conventional therapies; dissatisfaction with, or lack of efficacy of, conventional therapies; significant side effects or risks associated with conventional medicine; belief that herbal and natural products are better or safer; preference for personal involvement in the decision-making process; and cultural or spiritual preference1.

As herbal medicine has become more and more popular, there has been a huge increase in the range of remedies available over the counter. Many of us forget that herbs are drugs since they contain many chemicals and therefore just because something is “natural” don’t mean that we should be lulled into a false sense of security. Although selected products may have therapeutically beneficial effects, many cause adverse effects2 and drug interactions are similar to those experienced with conventional agents3. Recently there has been an upsurge in healthy living and people come across many herbal preparations advertised daily. Many companies selling herbs are now claiming to cure everything from impotence to hair-loss. Also, many herbal medicine advocates propose that the therapeutic benefit of herbal products stems from the synergistic action of the several natural components in the herb. They argue that some constituents that are thought to be inactive may play a role in the pharmacokinetics of the active component, and that a standardized extract would diminish or eliminate the beneficial effects of the heterogeneous botanical product4. No evidence currently is available to support or refute this argument. But how safe are these products really? It is true that when taken in the prescribed quantity, most of these products are safe, but the indiscriminant use of herbal medications is a considerable danger to our health. What many people don't know about herbs could kill them.


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