Herbal medicines warning: unregistered and unreliable

Monday, 24 February 2014

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have found that many so-called herbal medicines being sold in Australia are either not registered for sale or their contents differ to the legally registered items, prompting warnings about what consumers are buying.

A survey conducted by a team from the University's School of Medical Sciences investigated 121 products all claiming to be herbal remedies for either arthritis, cold and flu, gastrointestinal problems, stress, or premenstrual syndrome.

The results, being published in next month's Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, show that:
- 22 (or 18%) of the products were not registered with the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, despite this being a legal requirement of their sale
- 59 (or 60%) of the registered products had different ingredient concentrations listed on their websites compared with the Therapeutic Goods listings, making them non-compliant for sale
- Some of the remedies had substituted one ingredient for another.

The researchers also purchased sample items of 15 of these products over the counter at health food stores and pharmacies, and discovered that only two of them had ingredient concentrations that were consistent between the packaging, the information on their website, and their official Therapeutic Goods listing.

"More than two-thirds of the 121 products we surveyed were in some way not compliant for sale. That is a major concern for the community as well as for health professionals, with confusion about what is really contained in herbal medicines," says a senior author of the study, University of Adelaide toxicologist Dr Ian Musgrave.

"In the scientific community there is a great deal of concern about herbal remedies and their interactions with prescription drugs, such as steroid drugs and the blood-thinning drug warfarin, to name just two common examples.

"Our survey reinforces that there is a lack of quality information about herbal remedies. This disparity of information is a concern, as purchasers may be exposed to potentially hazardous concentrations of materials, or be at higher risk of overdose."

Co-author and University of Adelaide forensic pathologist Professor Byard AO says there are also implications for pathologists such as himself when trying to determine the cause of an individual's death.

"Because of the lack of good quality information, it may not be possible to determine what herbal substance a person has been exposed to prior to death and in what concentration. This could further exacerbate the problem of determining what role herbal medicines may play in certain forensic cases," Professor Byard says.

 

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Contact Details

Dr Ian Musgrave (email)
Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology
School of Medical Sciences
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 3905
Mobile: +61 (0)417 059 532


Mr David Ellis (email)
website
Media and Communications Officer
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
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