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Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies.

Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies are discussed. The use of herbal therapies is on the rise in the United States, but most pharmacists are not adequately prepared educationally to meet patients' requests for information on herbal products. Pharmacists must also cope with an environment in which there is relatively little regulation of herbal therapies by FDA. Many herbs have been identified as unsafe, including borage, calamus, coltsfoot, comfrey, life root, sassafras, chaparral, germander, licorice, and ma huang. Potentially safe herbs include feverfew, garlic, ginkgo, Asian ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John's wort, and valerian. Clinical trials have been used to evaluate feverfew for migraine prevention and rheumatoid arthritis; garlic for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and infections; ginkgo for circulatory disturbances and dementia; ginseng for fatigue and cancer prevention; and saw palmetto for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Also studied in formal trials have been St. John's wort for depression and valerian for insomnia. The clinical trial results are suggestive of efficacy of some herbal therapies for some conditions. German Commission E, a regulatory body that evaluates the safety and efficacy of herbs on the basis of clinical trials, cases, and other scientific literature, has established indications and dosage recommendations for many herbal therapies. Pharmacists have a responsibility to educate themselves about herbal therapies in order to help patients discern the facts from the fiction, avoid harm, and gain what benefits may be available.[1]


  1. Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies. Klepser, T.B., Klepser, M.E. American journal of health-system pharmacy : AJHP : official journal of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. (1999) [Pubmed]
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