Dr. Varro Tyler from Columbia-Presbyterian indicated that the potential hazards of herbal medicines result in large part from misuse, misrepresentation and mislabeling at a meeting on botanical medicine. Dr. Tyler also indicated that these “mis-es” would continue to plague users of herbal medicine until quality standards for herbal products are established and enforced.
Misuse refers to patient overdosing and concomitant drug consumption. Kava, for example, is used as an anxiolytic and a mild tranquilizer in dosing ranging from 60 to 120mg of kava pyrones daily. Some users may consume as much as triple this amount for extended periods of time without concern for the potential dangerous effects, which include malnutrition, liver and renal dysfunction and pulmonary hypertension.
Misrepresentation occurs when drug manufacturers distort or inflate the relative benefits from the products they distribute. A notorious example sited by Dr. Tyler was Mexican yam, which was widely promoted as a natural progestin that would be safer than prescription estrogens and progestins for perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. A component of wild Mexican yam, diosgenin, is a progestin precursor- but only in the laboratory. However, when ingested or used topically it has no effect. Products that do claim to get effective results from Mexican yam are spiked with progestin said Dr. Tyler at a conference at the University of Arizona.
Mislabeling, or improper identification, refers to instances where substitute herbs are included in a formulation. One example is a case of Siberian Ginseng that was thought to interact negatively with a heart medication. However, it was found that this product was made with Chinese silk vine instead and thus misled the consumer in a potential dangerous fashion.
Dr. Tyler and other health care professionals urge consumers to consult their physicians when using these herbal remedies, especially when used with prescription medication.