Sometimes when we make the attempt to live a more healthy and natural lifestyle our good intentions can get away from us. I know I personally am guilty of shying away from modern medicine in an attempt to live a more naturalistic lifestyle. Herbal supplements have been a part of my life now for the last 20 years. The use of herbal remedy is one area where what you don’t know could be very dangerous. Lack of knowledgeable health practioners and credible sources for herbal information can lead to conflicting information that could potentially impact your health in detrimental ways.
Herbal Industry Far From Regulated
Unfortunately the herbal industry is not regulated the same as the pharmacological industry. According to Stephen Bent in his article for Journal of General Internal Medicine “Herbal products are complex mixtures of organic chemicals that may come from any raw or processed part of a plant, including leaves, stems, flowers, roots, and seeds. Under the current law, herbs are defined as dietary supplements, and manufacturers can therefore produce, sell, and market herbs without first demonstrating safety and efficacy, as is required for pharmaceutical drugs.” What this means to the herbal consumer is, simply put, there are variances in the potency and internal mixtures of herbal compounds not only from label to label but also from manufacturer to manufacture. To compound this further in some cases it is almost impossible to determine where the herbs originated from and what additional ingredients may have been added to herbal preparations. Stephen Bents made the observation that “Because any given herb contains multiple ingredients. Some manufacturers attempt to create standardized herbal products by identifying a suspected active ingredient and altering the manufacturing process to obtain a consistent amount of the chemical. ” While taken at face value as being a good thing for the herbal industry what this does is change the chemical complex of the natural herbal product. By realigning the chemical potency of select sets of chemical properties in a herb it becomes very difficult to standardize the herb itself or more alarmingly the potential reaction on herbal users. Especially when herbal remedies are used in combination with other herbal products, prescription medication, alcohol or even common food additives.
What You Don’t Know About Herbs Can Hurt You
How certain herbs effect the liver is not that complicated Melissa Palmer M.D explained it best as “the hepatic vein becomes clogged, blocking off the blood supply to the liver. This can result in abdominal pain, vomiting, ascites, hepatomegaly (an enlarged liver), edema (leg swelling), cirrhosis, liver failure, and even death due to extensive liver damage.” Not a pretty picture when one is trying to be health conscientious by using natural herbs. The bad news is this can happen from common herbal products you might have in your medicine cabinet. Melissa Palmer mentions 35 herbs of concern, here are six of the most common herbs from the list and their uses .
Common Herbs That Could Cause Liver Damage
Black Cohash- roots used for menopausal symptoms, overall female reproduction health
Kava Kava- made from the roots of the kava plant which is a part of the pepper family, used primarily for anxiety and insomnia
Pau d’Arco- from tree bark used as an immune booster and sometimes mixed with red Clover.
Saw Palmetto- plant berries used for prostrate health
Sweet Clover- leaves and branches used for blood circulation and hemorrhoids.
Valerian -derived from the root, used as a sleep aid and a mild sedative
While it cannot be denied that there have been positive health results attributed from the use of herbal remedies, as with any medication the outcome can be uncertain. There have been cases of long time Tylenol users that suddenly developed toxic liver and kidney reactions despite years of usage. All herbal medications should be discussed fully with your doctor prior to and while using the herbal supplements. If possible dosage should be started at lowest level and not in combination with other drugs or herbal preparations for several days to rule out allergic reactions. Adverse reactions can be avoided by immediately discontinuing use if the herbal supplement if it is counter indicated for use with certain prescription drugs. Should you develop any reaction after taking an herbal compound such as abdominal pain, swelling, change in urinary function or general malaise, you should discontinue use and a physician should be consulted immediately.
Bent, Stephen Herbal Medicine in the United States: Review of Efficacy, Safety, and Regulation Journal of General Internal Medicine
Palmer, Melissa Herbs That May Harm The Liver or Cause Hepatitis liverdisease.com