How Are Herbal/natural Products Regulated?, What Kinds Of Products Are We Concerned About?Conclusion
For thousands of years, plants have been a source of medicinal agents. Many of the drugs we use today still come from plants, for example, morphine (opium poppy), digoxin (foxglove), and atropine (datura) to mention a few.
In recent years, there has been much interest on the part of the general public about herbalism, often as part of an alternative/ complementary form of health care. A renewed interest in herbal remedies and natural products has placed additional responsibility on consumers and health professionals to know:
- • why common medicinal herbs are used;
- • the potential for undesirable side effects, interactions, or allergic reactions;
- • if the claims being made are correct;
- • the quality of available products; and
- • if the cost is reasonable.
The attraction of herbal/natural remedies reflects on interest in a "back to nature" philosophy. While attractive, it is important for the public to know that there may be problems associated with the use of some herbs. For example:
- • "If it is natural, then it must be safe." Strychnine, a natural product once used in tonics, is a violent poison. Tobacco has been positively linked to lung cancer.
- • "Herbs are not drugs." Oregano added to pasta for flavoring is a herb, but the opium poppy, also an herb, contains the very powerful drug morphine.
- • "Herbs cannot do any harm, they can only cure." This is clearly incorrect when you consider plants such as poison ivy!
- • "If it has been used for centuries it must work." The age of a statement is not proof it is correct. Bloodletting was used for centuries, but that did not make it effective. The effectiveness of medicinal agents, whether herbal/natural or man-made, old or new, must be determined through careful study.
Nevertheless, there is a trend toward the use of herbal products to treat just about any condition. A maze of herbal/natural products ranging from vitamins to cancer treatments promoted by advertising is available to consumers. It becomes important to ask about the content, regulation, efficacy, uses, and safety of these products. What do these herbal products contain? How much? What are they used for? How long should they be taken? Are they safe? Do they really work? Are there active chemical ingredients? What are the dosages and warnings for a given herbal/natural product?
A herbal/natural product can have effects and side effects. It is best for individuals to check with their doctor or pharmacist to see whether it is safe and effective for them. Individuals should use the same caution as they would with any medication, by consulting their pharmacist or doctor.
MEERA B. THADANI
See also ARTHRITIS; DRUGS AND ARTHRITIS; EVIDENCE-BASED MEDICINE; PROSTATE; VITAMINS.
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