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Are Herbal Remedies Safe?

Updated on March 1, 2010
Herbs at a Korean market
Herbs at a Korean market

With the risk of side effects, cost of traditional medication, and desire for natural remedies instead of medication, herbal remedies are popular alternatives to medication. However, are they safe? There are several ways in which herbal remedies can be downright dangerous.

Herbal remedies can have dangerous side effects. Many people have the misconception that herbal remedies are safe because they are natural. People should approach herbal remedies with the same caution that they would have when considering a new medication.

Herbal remedies can cause dangerous interactions with medication. For example, St. John’s wort can cause a fatal reaction when taken by someone who is taking Paxil or heart medications. People who are taking medication should consult their doctor before taking herbal remedies.

People taking herbal remedies may neglect seeking medical treatment. When people take herbal remedies instead of consulting a physician, the risk of misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment is substantial. Often, people research herbal remedies on their own either with the Internet or by word of mouth. A resource about an herbal remedy may claim that the herbal treatment cures or effectively treats the ailment. The person may misdiagnose the condition and be treating a condition that the person does not have. Also, herbal remedy resources are often biased in promoting herbal remedies and exaggerate their claims.

Nuqra, silver foil flakes, is a common ingredient in herbal remedies.
Nuqra, silver foil flakes, is a common ingredient in herbal remedies.


Herbal treatments are not as regulated or tested as medications are. Herbal supplement may go on the market, especially with the global marketplace of the Internet, without any scientific proof that they are safe or effective. There have been cases in which herbal supplements were contaminated and caused health problems for those who took them. Heavy metals and even arsenic are common contaminants in herbal medicines.

If someone would like to try herbal remedies for a health condition, the person should seek the advice of a physician who accepts the patient’s choice for natural remedies. Prospective patients seeking natural remedies may need to do some research to find a physician who will respect their wishes. Though most physicians promote medications for treatment, some will encourage herbal remedies or other natural treatments. Some doctors may surprise you.

When I was with my son in the emergency room after he sustained second and third degree burns on his fingers, the emergency room doctor prescribed yogurt and pure cranberry juice or pure grape juice, not the “cocktails” or mixed juices. I thought that was a rather odd prescription from an emergency room doctor. The doctor explained that yogurt, pure cranberry juice, and pure grape juice are known for fighting infection. This shows that when a natural remedy is proven effective, some doctors would rather have their patients use the natural remedy rather than antibiotics or other prescription medications. My son’s burns healed better than the doctor expected and he doesn’t even have scars from the burns.

I would never have treated my son with yogurt and juice without seeking proper medical treatment first. Herbal and natural remedies should not be a substitute for medical attention. Those who want to use herbal remedies should make sure they receive the benefit of both herbal remedies and medical treatment at least in the form of proper diagnosis and consultation about treatment options.


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