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Some herbal supplements may be dangerous

June 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
There are more than 20,000 available herbal products in the United States. These remedies aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and some of them can be dangerous.

From sleeping to memory to mood to cholesterol, toxicologist Amitava Dasgupta says there's something to treat just about everything, but there's a huge misconception about herbal supplements.

"Anything natural is safe - that is a misconception because there are lots of natural products which are very toxic," said Dasgupta, a professor of pathology laboratory medicine.

He says Kava Kava, which is used as a natural sleep aid, can cause significant liver damage, including total liver failure, after just a few months of use. Germander, used for general health, can also cause liver failure.

"You have to treat natural products as a drug," said Dasgupta.

Pumi Champa took the ephedra-containing weight loss supplement Ma Huang for just three weeks when she got shocking news.

"I did my routine blood work and I noticed this really crazy, outrageous result that just didn't seem normal for someone as healthy as me," said Champa.

Her doctor said the supplement was damaging her liver and heart and if she didn't stop right away she would die.

Dasgupta says Bitter Orange is a toxic herb used for weight loss. He says the compounds are structurally similar to the street drug amphetamine, so it can cause heart damage.

He advises to also avoid Chaparral. He says this energizing supplement wreaks havoc on the liver. And Yohimbe, also known as herbal Viagra, can cause heart problems and high blood pressure.

"I think the FDA should regulate those products the way they regulate Western drugs," said Dasgupta. "Can you buy oxycodone in a pharmacy without a prescription? You cannot."

Dasgupta does not think the FDA needs to regulate all herbal supplements, just the ones that have known health risks. The FDA has issued warnings on several supplements that are known to have toxic effects, but those supplements are readily available in stores and online without any warning labels attached.


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