A pharmacist's perspective
Compared to pharmaceuticals, herbal medicines are widely described as "all natural" with no serious side effects.
But are all herbal cures safe and effective in all circumstances, or can they be misused or abused with dire significant consequences?
We decided to get pharmacist, Orin Jolly's take on this and got some useful warnings about why herbal medicine shouldn't be used recklessly.
The director at Jolly's Pharmacy identified a few common mistakes persons make when using herbs as medicines.
One main issue is the lack of standard guidelines for preparation and dosage.
"So if you say you are going to steep [a herb] and make a tea out of it, how long do you let it draw?
"Because the longer you let it draw, the higher the concentration and you might be getting an overdose. You don't know," he explains.
Further, he warns that there may be additives in the herbs that may not be good for the person consuming it.
Jolly says another important consideration is how chemicals from herbs interact with other chemical agents in the human body.
He gives a hypothesis."Let's say you are taking Drug A and then you decide to start taking Drug B; Drug B blocks the elimination of drug A.
"So every time you take Drug B the concentration of Drug A goes up in your body. . . It just keeps going up and up. . . to a toxic level."
Jolly explains that the potentially toxic effects of chemical imbalance can happen with herbal medicines as well.
He said some herbs and pharmaceuticals block liver enzymes while others induce liver enzyme activity.
If you block the major enzyme that metabolises medication, it means the drug will remain in the body.
If you induce it, then the drug will leave faster and the user may not get the desired effect from a medication being used.
He uses St John's Wort as an example. Theoretically, a person taking contraceptive pills and St John's Worth might end up pregnant.
This is because St John's Wort induces enzyme activity and the contraceptive pill could be induced to leave the body faster.
"Some herbs may block enzymes…so if it blocks it you might find something else you are using is building up in your body.
"It could be one herb blocking another herb or inducing another herb," Jolly explains.
And he advises persons researching herbs that cyberspace has a lot of wrong information. "I wouldn't advise going on the internet," he says.
Another concern is uncertainty about identifying medicinal herbs. "How do you know what you are buying is what they tell you it is?" Jolly asks.
As such, he believes herbs should be properly packaged in with appropriate information on labels to guide users.
"You want to make sure that supply chain is clean and tight. When you are buying a herbal medicine on the street, where did it come from?
"Whose farm did it come from? Lots of things can happen from where it's planted to packaging.
"So you want to know that person has a reputable process for packaging it…Are these leaves washed?
"Are there pesticides on them that need to be rinsed out? So you want to ensure . . . a clean process. . . all the necessary precautions. . ."
Jolly contends, "There should be some sort of regulation. . . whether the industry can regulate itself or they need external regulation. . .
"That [answer] I don't know. But one way or another somebody has to regulate," he maintains.
He notes that some herbalists believe that pharmacists are anti-herbs.
"That's really not true. We are objective. We believe that there is a place for herbs and there is a place for prescription medicines.
"What they generally feel is . . .there is no place for prescription medicines . . . at no point should we use a prescription drug. And that's not really true."
He recommends herbal medicines sometimes, depending on the needs of persons consulting with him.
And his pharmacy's shelves include herbal medicines for various purposes in capsule form.
Jolly's has also been producing a natural insect repellent from bay leaf extracts.
And they make a deodorant without aluminum, largely from local, natural ingredients.
Jolly sees herbal medicine mainly as a preventative medicine.
For instance, one may use herbal medicines to prevent an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer.
"But once you have an enlarged prostate or you have prostate cancer that's the time you go to the doctor and get prescription medicines.
"At that point, you are doing yourself more harm than good by continuing to use herbs," he advises.