For centuries people have used herbal remedies as a treatment for ailments and diseases. As technology became more advanced, it became customary for people to turn to prescription drugs. However, over the last few decades natural homeopathic treatments have become more sought after. Many believe this is in conjunction from consumers buying more ecofriendly products to preserve our environment. Common beliefs are that natural medicines are safer and have fewer risks involved. It's hard to imagine a natural product as being unsafe and even deadly. Herbal remedies are not regulated in any way which makes it much easier for manufacturers to falsely describe their products. These natural medicines are not scientifically researched before being sold to consumers.
By becoming more health aware Americans, many of us have turned to natural treatments in an effort to create healthy minds and bodies. However, few Americans do enough adequate research in order to find the truth of how well our health treatments, natural or not, really are the best methods of treatments available. Many people believe these natural products have been tested for safety and effectiveness. According to the American College of Rheumatology, many herbal remedies that are being sold on the U.S. market are extremely unsafe. Many of these products have active ingredients that are close to the ones found in prescription drugs. It is also very common to find toxic metals to be hidden within these medicines. What is even more disturbing about the issue is that many of these ingredients are not even listed on the label. For many people who have high blood pressure and heart conditions, these can create fatal side effects. Some examples of these natural remedies are ginger and willow bark extract which can relieve pain; however, they can create inflammation in the intestines and stomach which can lead to an interference with the clotting properties of the blood and possible fluid retention (Marcus 2008).
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Traditional herbal remedies have been known to cause many harmful side effects such as liver disease, slowed motor functions, unconsciousness, comatose, cardiac arrest, kidney failure, and sometimes even death (Kimpel 2000). A natural remedy that relieves pain and inflammation known as Chinese Thunder God Vine can weaken the immune system and has been known to cause osteoporosis (Marcus 2008). In fact, very few herbs are considered unsafe unless they are maintained in small amounts such as nutmeg which is used widely for its cooking properties. In large quantities, nutmeg can actually cause liver failure and death (Piazza 2008).
Although some herbs can be very harmful, some herbs are perfectly safe. Peppermint leaf can help with nausea, vomiting, and flatulence. Ginger root is also widely used to stop nausea and vomiting. Both are commonly used for women during pregnancy. Oats are rich in calcium and magnesium which helps relieve anxiety, restlessness, and irritated skin from insect bites and dry skin (American Pregnancy Assoc. 2007). Some other examples of safe herbs are garlic, cumin, parsley, and basil. Many of these safe herbs have been research as to the side effects that could result from ordinary cooking methods. Common herbs that can be bought through the local groceries store are all considered safe for human consumption in small quantities to ensure safety to American consumers.
Many herbal remedies are falsely advertised and labeled. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, many natural remedies contain prescription drugs and toxic metals that can harm consumers. Almost all of these are listed as "all natural" and do not list these extra ingredients on the labels (FDA 2010). One weight loss supplement that was studied was found to have a stimulant drug that was pulled from the U.S. market in 1997 because it was known to cause serious heart valve damage (FDA 2010). It also contained other ingredients that were known to cause heart conditions, heart attack, strokes, and many other cardiovascular conditions (FDA 2010). A 37 year old woman died from taking a diet tea over the course of several months. The tea contained laxatives and diuretics, increases urination, ingredients which can deplete potassium in the body. Potassium helps the heart to remain regular heartbeats. The label of this product did not state dosage limits nor warnings for prolonged use (Kimpel 2000). According to the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida, "the Good House Keeping Instituteâ€¦compared six widely available St. John's wort supplement capsules and four liquid extracts. The laboratory reported a "startling lack of consistency in the quantity of hypericin." (Kimpel 2000). They also found St. John's wort acts as a sedative rather than an alert aid as advertised (Kimpel 2000). Also, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, scientists lead a 20 year study on the benefits of ginseng. At the end of the study, it was found that ginseng had no known substantial health benefits (Kimpel 2000). When it comes to herbal remedies, it is easy to see that many side effects can result from taking these medicines. Prescription drugs can also cause side effects; however, most physicians are trained in the possible side effects, conditions that can be caused by long term usage, and what physical conditions may increase the risk of side effects for their patients. Each prescription drug that is available to the public is researched by the United States Food and Drug Administration. The FDA insures that all prescriptions are safe and effective as long as they are administered following the given directions. When prescriptions are found to be unsafe after laboratory testing, they are pulled off the market and cannot be given to patients. Unlike prescription drugs, herbal remedies are not regulated by a government organization. In fact, these products are not regulated at all. Consumers have no way of knowing what ingredients are actually in the herbal remedies.
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Although herbal remedies are unsafe and unregulated, they are however more cost efficient compared to prescription drugs. The average price for prescription drug for seniors over the age of 65 was $72.94 in 2010 (AFSCME). Senior citizens account for nearly 13% of the population; however, they consume 34% of all prescription drugs each year (AFSME). Senior citizens are finding it harder to buy their medications due to the economic conditions. The annual amount that senior citizens spent on drugs in 1992 was an average of 559. By 2000, the annual amount had risen to 1,200. For senior citizens, these prescriptions are necessary to alleviate medical conditions and relieve pain. 80% of people over the age of 65 take at least one prescription drug each year (AFSCME).
United States Food and Drug Administration ensure that prescription drugs are safe by providing warning labels to ensure each patient is aware of possible side effects, listed ingredients that are active in the medicine, researching and clinical trials on all prescriptions to ensure safety and effectiveness, and to ensure the best dosage requirements for all users. Herbal remedies can be used safely when in moderation, but until more research is done to determine what herbs are safe. If more research could be gathered to show the possible side effects and the physical conditions that should be watched when taking certain natural medicines, then herbal remedies might become safer for consumers to use. Also, herbal remedies need to be regulated by some government administration to set laws and stipulations on the warning labels, ingredients listed on each bottle, and the proper amount of each ingredient in each bottle of natural medicines that are sold in the U.S. market. By creating more regulations and gathering proper research herbal remedies may one day become safer and more effective than prescription drugs.