September 6, 2011

Buyers of Herbal Medicines – BEWARE! - P1

While I try to respect both sides on the debate about herbal medicines, there are some facts that cannot be escaped and must be discussed to enlighten the general public. Neither side is blameless and public safety still needs to be front and center. Most herbal medicines are in fact fairly safe – on the surface. It is when we get below all the hype and misinformation that we can sometimes see some real causes for concern and even sometimes find real dangers.

Most, but not all of the dangers arise from abuse and overuse of herbal medicines in situations where prescription medications are also taken at the same time as herbal medicines. Who is at fault? There is plenty to go around - physicians, herbal medicine manufacturers, and patients are all at blame. Much depends on the particular circumstances. Then the final piece of the puzzle is governmental actions that make the picture grim for all concerned.

Since I am a patient, I start where I have the most knowledge and experience. Patients as a whole do quite well with most herbal medicines and are not abusing them in most cases. Where most patients go wrong is not having a list of which ones they are taking and sharing this with their doctors. Most feel that since they are herbal and from nature that there is no reason to be concerned and their doctors do not need to know what they use.. This is the first mistake – and a huge one. Some herbal medications do react unfavorably with prescription medications and some can even cause death.

The second mistake some patients make is taking either too large a dose or too small of a dose. Of course, there are instructions on the packaging for the herbal medications, but they can sometimes be misleading as they are for the “average” patient and not necessarily for the patient taking them. This is when the doctor can be a valuable resource to discuss this with and the doctor may be able to do some tests to determine the appropriate dosage. Sometimes this will not be of help, but the patient has more to gain than lose.

The third mistake patients make is not researching the herbal medications they take. For many this involves just reading the paper that comes with the packaging. Then when these papers of instructions are not part of the packaging, patients need to make sure that they ask for information from the sellers, the manufacturers, and not take them until all questions have been answered.

The forth mistake patients are prone to make is not rechecking the information when prescriptions are added to the mix or when herbal treatments are added to the prescription mix. Both can have severe consequences when this is neglected.

The last mistake many patients make do have conflict potential and must be handled diplomatically or not – depending on how the doctor reacts to herbal medicines and supplements. The American Medical Association has an adverse policy to herbal medications and supplements. Some doctors have the same attitude while other doctors respect herbal medicines and the patients' right to use them.

In the next blog I will discuss mistakes by doctors. Please read the following article about some of the many problems patients often ignore and the dangers.

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