Natural is not the same as safe

Herbal remedies linked to drug side effects

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9636982/Herbal-remedies-linked-to-drug-side-effects.html

Interactions between prescription drugs and herbal or dietary supplements can cause complications including heart problems, chest and abdominal pain and headache, according to a review of existing evidence.

Remedies and supplements including ingredients like St John’s wort, magnesium, calcium, iron and ginkgo caused the greatest issues, researchers reported in the International Journal of Clinical Practice.

Experts from the China Medical School in Taiwan studied data from 54 review articles and 31 independent studies involving 213 herbal and dietary supplements and 509 prescribed drugs.

A total of 882 linked effects were observed, with warfarin, insulin, aspirin digoxin and ticlopidine among the drugs which were most affected.

Flaxseed, echinacea and yohimbe, a stimulant and aphrodisiac found in Africa, were the herbal ingredients which were found to cause the greatest number of drug interactions.

It seems these days that one of the most common logical pitfalls I come across is the naturalistic fallacy. It’s everywhere you go, from those natural herbal supplements, natural milk, pretty much everything is marketed as natural at the moment, it’s the big buzz word, probably surpassing organic.

For those that aren’t aware of the naturalistic fallacy it is the flaw in logic that describes that because something is natural it must be beneficial, or at least not harmful. It doesn’t take much to dispel this particular fallacy. I like to point out that arsenic, cyanide, snake venom and crude oil are natural, and I sure wouldn’t want to ingest those.

So let’s talk about this recent literature review, it highlights what the medical profession and Skeptics have been trying to put across for years. News Flash! Herbs are drugs! That’s right folks, they are not inert, and they actually have physiological effects on your body. Unfortunately they are not normally the effects that are claimed on the bottle.

The biggest problem is that patients rarely report to their doctors what supplements they are taking because they don’t consider them to be drugs, it doesn’t even occur to most people. The fact is that most of our potent pharmaceuticals were found in nature, the difference between a pharma drug and a “natural” remedy is that pharmaceuticals are refined and defined. This means you take a pure form of the drug and you know how much you are taking. The same cannot be said for herbal remedies.

Why is this an issue? It’s because of the aforementioned non inertness of herbal remedies. While a lot of herbal remedies don’t really have a big effect by themselves (with the exception of some quite toxic remedies) they can react with real drugs that you are taking at the time. St Johns Wart is just one example, and probably the most well-known, this study also identified flaxseed and Echinacea. These are all commonly taken supplements that could be harming unknowing patients who are taking prescription meds. Heart problems are serious and potentially life threatening, whilst headaches, chest and abdominal pain are nothing to be sniffed at.

The moral to this story is that tell you doctor EVERYTHING, honestly you just don’t know how useful and even potentially lifesaving this could turn out to be.