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Thursday, 25 February 2010 03:05

Study finds some herbal medicines can sicken or kill

Dr. Roger Byard states in the Journal of Forensic Sciences that traditional herbal substances can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals, which can cause illness, make existing medical problems worse, and even cause death.

Herbal medicines, although generally safe to use when under the care, direction, and advice of a family doctor or other medical professional, are not necessary safe in all circumstances.

Dr. Roger Byard is warning people around the world of the potential side effects that herbal medicines may have if taken in large quantities, in combination with pharmaceutical/prescription drugs, or if taken in other unsafe means and methods.

The summary of Dr. Roger W. Byard's study is within the article 'A Review of the Potential Forensic Significance of Traditional Herbal Medicines' (volume 55, issue 1, pages 89-92; published online: January 4, 2010) within the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

The journal is a publication of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Dr. Byard is associated with Forensic Science SA, in Adelaide, Australia, and with the Discipline of Pathology, at the University of Adelaide.

The abstract of his paper states, 'Traditional herbal substances may contain highly toxic chemicals and heavy metals, in addition to naturally occurring organic toxins. These substances may cause illness, exacerbate pre-existing ill health or result in death, particularly if taken in excess or in an unusual manner (e.g., injected rather than ingested).'

Page two provides comments by Dr. Byard from two media articles.

Australian forensic pathologist Roger Byard, comments in the ABC News article 'Herbal remedy linked to liver failure' about substances that profess to be natural and safe.

Dr. Byard states, "'¦ plutonium is natural but that doesn't make it safe".

Byard also states in the Digital Journal article 'Pathologist warns herbal remedies can be lethal,' 'There's a false perception that herbal remedies are safer than manufactured medicines, when in fact many contain potentially lethal concentrations of arsenic, mercury and lead.'

Dr. Byard adds comments from the abstract of his JFS paper, 'Lack of regulation of the content and quality of herbal medicines may result in contamination and adulteration with prescription medications. As there may be no history of the specific use of these products their contribution to death may not be fully appreciated during a standard autopsy."

And, 'Even when their existence is known or suspected, it may be difficult to identify these substances on standard toxicologic screening. Herbal medicines may also be responsible for a range of symptoms and signs that may confuse the clinical presentation of cases. Given these issues the role of herbal medicines in forensic practice needs to be more clearly defined as deaths may be occurring where herbal medicines have made a significant, but as-yet unrecognized, contribution.' [Abstract}

A commentary on herbal medicines is found at 'Opinion: Chronic liver failure linked to black cohosh herbal remedy,' which includes reference of Dr. Byard's study, incidents involving Australians taking herbal medicines and having adverse reactions, and various other comments and opinions on the herbal medicine industry.

The article includes the statement: 'Studies have shown that many herbal remedies have a problem which doesn't relate to their ingredients, but the unbelievably sloppy and haphazard means of production and regulation. Australia also had a case several years ago of massive contamination in a major production facility caused by using the production lines to serve many different types of tablet, contaminating large numbers of batches and producing a national recall of all brands. Several people were severely affected by the weird mixes of ingredients in a car sickness product.'

Even though herbal medicines are easily available, they are not necessarily always safe to use. Caution is advised.

Page three concludes with information about herbal medicines from MedlinePlus, a website of U.S. goverment agencies.

Herbal medicines are part of a multi-billion dollar, international business, with such substances readily available in grocery stores and health food stores.

However, Dr. Bryan is making this warning clear with his published scientific article: some herbal medicines may not be safe. The saying "Better safe than worry" should always be applied.

As with any substance ingested into the body, it is always good advice to seek professional medical advice before putting any medicine into or on your body.

MedlinePlus, a website of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health provide information on herbal medicines.

The web page begins, "An herb is a plant or plant part used for its scent, flavor or therapeutic properties. Herbal medicine products are dietary supplements that people take to improve their health. Many herbs have been used for a long time for claimed health benefits. They are sold as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts and fresh or dried plants."

"However, some can cause health problems, some are not effective and some may interact with other drugs you are taking."

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