Herbal medicines can have dangerous side effects

MNA Life Style Desk: If you think that herbal and dietary supplements are better than conventional medications for your health, think again as they may harm.

A new study shows that liver injury caused by herbal and dietary supplements increased from seven percent to 20 percent in the US over a 10-year period.

Overturning a common perception that herbs are safe because they have been used for many years, researchers have warned that long-term use of herbal remedies is no guarantee of their safety as many herbs may contain toxic or carcinogenic substances.

In a commentary published in the journal EMBO reports, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and Stony Brook University discussed scientific evidence showing that the plant Aristolochia can cause aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN).

People with this condition experience interstitial nephritis, renal failure and cancers of the urinary track.

Studies of patients with renal failure and cancer in Taiwan and China show that tens of millions of people in those countries are at risk of AAN.

In genetically susceptible people, consuming Aristolochia can lead to the formation of complexes between aristolactam, a compound in Aristolachia, and DNA in renal tissues.

Although Aristolochia has been used as herbal remedy for more than 2,000 years, “the intrinsic toxicities were not recognized, owing, in large part, to the latency period between exposure and the onset of symptomatic disease, and, in part, to genetic determinants that confer susceptibility to only approximately five percent of those exposed to this herb”, said the report.

The study also expressed that liver injury due to non-bodybuilding supplements is most severe, more frequently resulting in death or the need for transplantation than liver injury from bodybuilding supplements or conventional medications.

The research team determined that among cases enrolled, liver injuries from herbal and dietary supplements rose from seven percent to 20 percent during the study period.

The long-term scientific study of AAN revealed the association of the disease with Aristolochia.

“The history of Aristolachia indicates that other herbs that have been used for a long time may also have toxic and carcinogenic compounds,” the report added.

“It is prudent to assume that many herbs may contain toxic or carcinogenic substances that can cause subsequent health problems for humans,” they noted.

Other herbal products and traditional medicines are responsible for severe adverse events in Africa and Asia, but in these cases epidemiological data are lacking, said the researchers suggesting that herbal remedies may be an overlooked global health hazard.


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