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The EU Bans Hundreds of Herbal Supplements, And All I Got Was This Blog

Published: May 5, 2011

Legislation in the European Union has recently come into effect that will ban hundreds of over-the-counter herbal supplements. Under the new rules, herbal supplements will face more regulation and restrictions, forcing many manufacturers to take their products off the market.

A study done in the United Kingdom estimated that nearly a quarter of the population use herbal remedies to treat everything from depression to obesity. This same study showed that, of these herbal supplement users, nearly 60% believed that herbal remedies are safe simply because “they are natural.”

The truth of the matter is that herbal supplements, like all drugs, can have some very serious side effects associated with their use.

Take for example, St. John’s Wort. Today, there is some scientific evidence that St. John’s Wort is a useful drug for temporarily treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. St. John’s Wort has a naturally occurring compound in it that mimics the effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of synthetic drugs that might be prescribed by a doctor to treat depression.

When used in conjunction with other drugs, however, St. John’s Wort can have some serious consequences. A prime example is its interference with the effectiveness of birth control pills. Even more devastating is the fact that St. John’s Wort can render ineffective immunosuppressant drugs that are vital for organ transplant patients. There have been documented cases of people actually dying because their bodies rejected organs due to the patient’s undocumented use of St. John’s Wort.

Further cause for concern comes from people using St. John’s Wort to treat depression. Should someone using St. John’s Wort also receive traditional antidepressants from their doctor (i.e. Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, etc.) they may experience the serotonin syndrome, a buildup of the naturally occurring neurotransmitter, serotonin. The serotonin syndrome manifests itself through the symptoms of headache, hallucinations, hyperthermia (extreme fever), muscle twitching, renal failure, increased heart rate, shock, coma and possibly death.

This is the same thing that happens when one overdoses on Ecstasy, by-the-way.

St. John’s Wort is just one example of the hundreds of herbal supplements that are being touted as “safe” and “natural,” or rather “safe because they’re natural.” Now, I’m not saying that these remedies need to be done away with entirely, but rather there needs to be a significant change in the way consumers think about them.

The EU has put this concern into legislative form, and has now put into place some strict safety and testing requirements for a previously unregulated market. Of the 211 herbal products that were considered, 105 were given approval to be registered and sold. To become a registered herbal supplement, manufacturers need to prove the safety and quality of their products. In addition, consistent and accurate usage and dosage needs to be clearly displayed. Perhaps most importantly however, registered manufacturers must now identify and label all side effects and drug interactions associated with their remedies.

Some people believe this regulation goes too far, and threatens to put smaller manufacturers out of business due to the expense of the registration process. Legislators counter with the fact that the law was passed in 2004, and manufacturers of these herbal products were given seven years to conform to the new standards. Some people in the medical industry are even saying that these new rules don’t go far enough. Herbal remedies still don’t have the same rigorous trial period that synthetic pharmaceuticals must endure, and that worries many health officials.

While I won’t comment on whether or not the United States should follow in suit with the regulation that the European Union has put in place, I will say that every person, no matter their country of residence, needs to be responsible for their own health. Recognize that herbal supplements are drugs, just like Tylenol and Prozac. The fact that they are natural and not made in a lab doesn’t make them inherently safer. Just ask Socrates.

If you do use herbal supplements to treat various ailments, my advice to you is to (if you don’t already) check with your physician or pharmacist before starting any regiment. They can help guide you as to proper dosage, warn you about possible side effects, and check for interactions with other drugs you are taking. Remember, you are responsible for your health. Make informed decisions.

Chris Sprott is a contributor to Sacramento Men’s Health. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Dr. Doug DeSalles or The Doctor’s Clinic For Men. As always, content found on Sacramento Men’s Health is not indented to diagnose, treat or cure any disease, and in no way should be used to supplant advice from a licensed professional. Chris Sprott is not a doctor, nor does he play one on TV. His medical background comes from a university education in human physiology, the reading of medical journals, and watching far too many re-runs of House, MD. If you have any questions, comments or concerns please contact DougDeSallesMD@gmail.com