Dangerous herbs and harmful natural supplements you should avoid
Dietary supplements are a $20-billion-a-year industry. After the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act deregulated natural substances in 1994, it has become more and more difficult to monitor what makes it into the market. Though most of the health claims made by manufacturers remain to be proven, the same cannot be said about the dangers of some of these products. Some herbs currently available for sale in health food stores can be deadly.
Aristolochia is one of over 500 species in the Birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae). Highly regarded by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, birthwort was still in use well into this century, as doctors gave it to women in labor to help them expel the placenta. Because aristolochic acid, a component of aristolochia, is a poison, it caused the death of many women.
Up until recently, aristolochia was a common ingredient in many Chinese herbal products for sale nationwide. After numerous reported cases of kidney failure, cancer, and deaths, the FDA has now issued a warning to both consumers and medical professionals about the herb. The FDA is also actively trying to block new imports of aristolochia into the country. Britain and Belgium have already banned the herb, together with Japan and several other countries.
Comfrey has been used for medicinal purposes for over a century. Herbalists and doctors used it on a regular basis in the 1800's to treat broken bones, sprains, severe burns, and numerous skin conditions. When applied externally, it can speed up the shedding of skin cells and nurse injured tissues back to health.
Comfrey, however, is not appropriate for internal usage because it contains hepatotoxic pyrrolidizine alkaloids (PAs), which can lead to liver failure and cause cancer. PAs can also be absorbed through broken skin, which renders comfrey unusable on deep wounds. In 2001, the FDA issued a warning against consumption of comfrey. Several deaths related to comfrey overdose have been reported.