Sunday, January 3, 2010

Herbal scares

Only too often do we hear yet another warning about some herb or supplement. Ever wonder where this comes from? How's this for for an example? I recently attended a nephrologist's (kidney doctor) lecture on chronic kidney disease (CKD). In it he warned against taking Chinese herbs for CKD. Now understand, there are thousands of Chinese herbs, everything from Chinese cinnamon to ginseng. We know from centuries of experience that most of these herbs have a safe profile and have been effective in treating many common disorders. Most nephrologists know nothing about herbs except for what they may occaisonally come across in one of their journal articles. Generally, the only thing that gets printed about herbs in these journals is bad news. Now don't misunderstand. If there is a real problem, and this goes for pharmaceuticals as well, we should be informed. It's only when just the problems are discussed that we wind up giving the whole topic a bad name. There was in fact a Chinese herbal formula that was prescribed for weight loss. The formula contained a substance called aristolochic acid (occuring naturally in some herbs). When prescribed in high enough dosage to people with CKD the results can be potentially harmful. This is why it is important to work with a licensed herbalist who is trained properly and gets herbs from a supplier that is recognized by the FDA. Reputable suppliers and doctors follow any warnings, recalls or advisories published by the FDA.

The previous scenario is no different for pharmaceutical prescription. Quite often, drugs are recalled or even taken off the market entirely. Viox is one example where people were actually dying from heart attacks before the drug was recalled. Recently, certain vitamins have come under attack. Currently, there are two batches of H1N1 vaccine that are being recalled for being too weak and possibly ineffective.

Don't be fooled. Work with a reputable herbalist, ask questions and above all, don't be scared of herbal medicine on the say so of one who is misinformed or uneducated on the subject. For information on herbs and Chinese medicine go to