Herbal supplements are often perceived to be safe, gentle, and a natural way of providing support for overall health & well-being. Many herbal supplements contain hidden pharmaceutical ingredients
that could be causing serious health risks, suggested a team of
experts from Queen's University Belfast, Kingston University London and
Emeritus Professor Duncan Burns, a forensically experienced
analytical chemist from the Queen's University Belfast's Institute for
Global Food Security, has been working with a team of specialists on a
peer-reviewed paper to examine the detection of illegal ingredients in
‘Over-the-counter supplements - to treat obesity and erectile dysfunction problems - are labelled as fully herbal but often include potentially dangerous pharmaceutical ingredients, which are not listed on the label.’
The experts included Dr Michael Walker from the Government Chemist
Programme at LGC and Professor Declan Naughton from Kingston University.
The research found that over-the-counter supplements - commonly
advertised to treat obesity and erectile dysfunction problems - are
labelled as fully herbal but often include potentially dangerous
pharmaceutical ingredients, which are not listed on the label.
Professor Burns from Queen's University, who is working to advance
knowledge in this area, explained: "Our review looked at research from
right across the globe and questioned the purity of herbal food
supplements. We have found that these supplements are often not what
customers think they are - they are being deceived into thinking they
are getting health benefits from a natural product when actually they
are taking a hidden drug."
"These products are unlicensed medicines and many people are
consuming large quantities without knowing the interactions with other
supplements or medicines they may be taking. This is very dangerous and
there can be severe side effects."
The survey raises serious questions about the safety of slimming
supplements containing Sibutramine. Sibutramine was licensed as the
medicine Reductil until 2010, when it was withdrawn across Europe and
the US due to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes associated
with the use of the drug.
Tadalfil and sulfoaildenafil were among the most frequently
undeclared ingredients in products for erectile dysfunction. When taken
with other medicines containing nitrates, they can lower blood pressure
drastically and cause serious health problems.
Professor Burns noted: "This is a real issue as people suffering
from conditions like diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension are
frequently prescribed nitrate containing medicines. If they are also
taking a herbal supplement to treat erectile dysfunction, they could
become very ill. People who take these products will not be aware they have taken
these substances and so when they visit their doctor they may not
declare this and it can be difficult to determine what is causing the
side effects. It is a very dangerous situation."
Professor Declan Naughton explained: "This work highlights the vital
role research and, in particular, techniques like datamining, can play
in informing regulators about current trends in supplement
contamination. This is very important to ensure effective testing
strategies and, ultimately, to help keep the public safe."
Dr Michael Walker commented: "The laboratory tests we describe in
our paper will assist regulators to tackle this problem proactively to
protect consumers and responsible businesses."