Generally, over the counter herbal/supplement products have been considered to be safe and beneficial by the public. Unfortunately, this can be far from reality.
Over the counter herbal/supplement products are not intended to be drugs or medications and therefore are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA regulates, oversees testing and approves prescription drugs, but herbal/supplement products are not tested or approved before they are made and sold to the public. The FDA will intervene usually when a herbal/supplement product is suspected to contain or us found to contain prescription drugs, potentially harmful contaminants, or is labeled with inappropriate health claims. While it is impossible for the FDA to randomly test all over the counter herbal/supplement products available today, they found recent evidence of unsafe and potentially fraudulent activity within these types of products.
For example, the FDA has determined several of herbal/supplement products claiming to help people lose weight that contained high doses of potent prescription drugs ephedra (ephedrine) or sibutramine. Ephedrine has been associated with adverse cardiovascular reactions, seizures, and even death. Sibutramine was a FDA approved prescription drug for weight loss (Meridia) that was removed from the market in October 2010 because of an increased risk of heart problems and stroke. In another case, an imported herbal promoted for its ‘calming effect’ was found to contain diazepam, which is the controlled prescription drug better known as Valium.
Some over the counter herbal/supplemental products tested did not contain any of their labeled content nor did they list contaminates, chemicals, or potentially harmful drugs that were sometimes included. Additionally, reputable herbal/supplement products may change the absorption, metabolism, or excretion of specific prescription drugs and influence the potency (and toxicity). For instance St John’s Wort, a commonly used herbal can interact with prescription drugs used to treat heart conditions, depression, organ transplants, and oral contraceptives with possibly dangerous and life-threatening results. Likewise, ginko biloba can make blood thinners (such as warfarin or Coumadin) stronger and increase the chance of serious bleeding or stroke. Make sure to tell your healthcare provider of any herbal/supplemental products you take.
Here are some tips to consider regarding herbal/supplemental products:
- “Natural” does not always mean safe and may not mean effective.
- Claims such as made in the United Sates, FDA approved, completely safe, or miracle cures may be incorrect.
- Advertising may target those with poor English or literacy proficiency, limited access to healthcare information, or to those who shop in nontraditional places such as ethnic or international stores, flea markets, or online.
- Check resources such as Drugs.com (www.drugs.com/npc/) for useful information on natural products and possible drug interactions.
- Visit the FDA recall site (www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm) and the FDA consumer sites to see supplements that have been identified as potentially harmful and get up-to-date useful information to help protect your health.
Learn more about it at:
Some Imported Dietary Supplements and Nonprescription Drug Products May Harm You. US Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm466588.htm
Making Herbal Supplements Safer. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/01/opinion/making-herbal-supplements-safer.html?_r=0