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Safety of Herbs

Use herbal preparations safely by recognizing the dangers and safety of herbs.

You may have noticed that herbal supplements will often have two statements on the container. One says something like, "Supports healthy pregnancy," and the other states, "The FDA has not supported this statement."

What are you supposed to make of that?

Put very simply, herbs have been around a long time as healing agents. Certainly they have been used much longer than the Federal Drug Administration or the American Medical Association.

In recent years there has been an increasing interest in herbal supplements both by professionals and lay persons. At the same time, many people have questioned the safety of herbs.

Are they safe or not?

Testing of Herbs

Herbs have not been through the same rigorous testing required by the FDA for prescription or over-the-counter drugs that are on the market. With some herbs, there has been no testing, but only anecdotal reports from individuals that certain products helped them.

These self reports do not qualify for research. In other cases, research has been done, but not by a recognized medical or scientific organization. Also the FDA does not test or regulate the herbal extracts, and therefore does not want the public to assume they have approved the products sold at your local health food store.

So what does this mean to you in terms of the safety of herbs?

Basically, the herbs are unregulated by the FDA, or any other national body. A person does not have the assurance of:
  • Proven effectiveness for certain conditions
  • Quantities or strength needed
  • Purity of the ingredients purchased
  • Quality control of the manufacturing process
This is not the same thing as saying herbs are ineffective--only that their effectiveness has not been tested in the same way that traditional drugs have been.

Compare Herbs and Medicines

There is another difference in herbs as well.

They generally do not have the same level of potency as medicines, which is why they are on the market without medical supervision.

Medical doctors or other licensed clinicians are required to prescribe drugs because such substances are potentially dangerous, sometimes even lethal. Therefore, the supervision of someone trained for many years in their use is necessary.

Such danger is seldom present with herbs, at least those produced and sold on the market. They may have a clinical effect in treating certain symptoms. But herbs generally do not possess the potency to either cure disease or kill anyone, at least if taken in the quantities recommended by the manufacturers.

Therefore, these products remain on the market, but with the statement that the FDA does not approve them as cures for disease.

What about the occasional news report that states herbal preparations are unsafe and may be dangerous? Look for the statistics. They generally are not reported in the article. While there HAVE been some detrimental outcomes documented from herbs used as medicines, the statistical probability of harm is far less than that of taking an aspirin or Tylenol. Keep it in perspective, and ask for their statistics if someone says that herbs are harmful.

Risks of Herbs in Pregnancy

There have been some incidents of adverse outcomes of herbs used in pregnancy - particularly when used to stimulate labor. Because of these cases, few medical professionals are comfortable with the safety of herbs.

In many of the cases with detrimental outcomes, the person took the preparation in larger quantities than recommended. Sometimes the wrong form of the plant was used.

Ensure the Safety of Herbs You Take

So how can you be comfortable with herbal preparations? A very simple common sense rule:

Only take herbal preparations in the recommended amount.

It is as simple as that. People either buy the herbal preparations, in which case you take them in the recommended quantity. The manufacturer does not want to get sued so they are not advising dangerously high doses.

On the other hand, if you like to grow and dry your own herbs, then consult a professional publication on the use of the herb. That should include amount and frequency.

Danger comes when individuals learn about an herb (or any other substance) through hear-say, and then self-treat with no guidelines.

Safe Use of Herbs In Pregnancy

Other articles on safety of herbs in pregnancy and labor are listed here.

  • Pregnancy Herbs: 7 Guidelines for Safe Use
  • 6 Ways to Use Herbal Medicines
  • Inducing Labor with Herbs

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    By Karen Newell Copyright 2003 - 2012 Better Childbirth Outcomes - All Rights Reserved
    Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA