Herbal medicines: Are they safe?

Americans tend to assume that if a drug is sold either by prescription in a pharmacy or off the shelf in a convenience store that it is safe. Otherwise, the label would list the cautions that must be taken to use it safely.

In fact, this is not how the rest of the world views herbal medicines.

Here is a revealing quote from the World Health Organization (WHO) as stated in The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Italics are mine for emphasis.

“The guidelines call for the recognition that long-term historical use of a botanical in traditional medicine constitutes a presumption of safety unless contradicted by modern scientific research:

A guiding principle should be that if the product has been traditionally used without demonstrated harm, no specific regulatory action should be undertaken unless new evidence demands a revised risk-assessment … As a basic rule, “when there are no detailed toxicological studies, documented experience on long-term use without evidence of safety problems should form the basis of the risk assessment.”

It has never been more important to be thoroughly informed before buying a product for your health.

7/14/06 13:18 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.