What’s in that pill?

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Lots of people believe that because herbs are not chemical drugs, they are completely safe. Not true. Some herbal remedies do have adverse effects, as do vitamin and mineral supplements.

Before you open that next bottle of ginkgo biloba or kava kava, consider these truths and myths about herbal products:

  • Herbal compounds vary in strength. Dosage may not be consistent

from pill to pill or between brands.

  • There are side effects. Natural doesn’t always mean safe. Illegal

drugs like marijuana and opium come from natural sources, as

does cigarette tobacco. Ginseng, ginkgo biloba and even garlic

supplements can thin your blood and make you bleed more freely.

Kava kava, taken for anxiety, can sometimes cause liver damage.

  • Herbs are not regulated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration

does not oversee their production, sale or use, meaning their safety

and usefulness may not be adequately documented.

  • Herbs and conventional medicines are not always compatible.

Herbs may reduce or increase the effects of certain medications

resulting in organ damage or even fatality. For example, the mood

improver St. John’s Wort may reduce the effectiveness of oral

contraceptives and change the plasma concentrations of omepr

zole, a GERD medication. Talk with your doctor before mixing the


  • Herbal remedies may delay doctor visits, putting you at risk. This

could prolong effective treatment of disease or put off a diagnosis

of a more serious ailment.

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