Highlighting the risks posed by herbal medicines to the Australian community

February 6, 2017

Dr Garth Maker

Dr Garth Maker (pictured) described the safety of herbal medicines in Australia as "very concerning"

Murdoch researchers have played a key role in discovering the inadequate regulation and monitoring of traditional herbal preparations in Australia, which are widely used to treat a broad range of conditions and diseases.

Led by Professor Roger Byard, chair of Pathology at the University of Adelaide, authors of a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia said the lack of regulation, the inclusion of unidentified ingredients (some illegal or even toxic), and the mistaken belief that “natural” means “safe” are just some of the dangers inherent in the widespread use in Australia of traditional herbal products.

The Murdoch team carried out toxicological analysis using mass spectrometry, to detect pharmaceuticals and potential toxins that may have been present in the herbal products.

“Our research set out to develop a new toolkit to study safety of herbal medicines sold in Australia. The initial findings were very concerning, and showed a substantial level of non-compliance with Australian law,” said Dr Garth Maker.

“With this new publication, we have put our research into the bigger picture and sought to highlight the specific risks posed to the Australian community by herbal medicines. While the debate will no doubt continue, we believe that the evidence available demonstrates the need for both more research and a stronger approach to regulation of these products.”

The proportion of the Australian population using herbal products was estimated to be 69 per cent in 2005, with research finding that more than half of those using complementary medicine (including herbal products) did not inform their doctors, thereby risking interactions with prescribed medications.

“That side effects of herbal medicines used in traditional societies have not been reported is often cited in favour of their safety, but the lack of systematic observation has meant that even serious adverse reactions, such as the kidney failure and liver damage caused by Aristolochia species, were unrecognised until recently,” wrote the authors of the paper titled: What risks do herbal products pose to the Australian community?

The paper can be read in full here.

Dr Garth Maker will be giving a public lecture on 'How safe are your herbal medicines?' on Monday, 27 February, 2017 as part of the lecture series theme UNDERCOVER.  For more information click here.


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Media contact: Luke McManus
Tel: (08) 9360 2491  |  Mobile: 0400 297 221  |  Email: L.McManus@murdoch.edu.au
Categories: General, Research, School of Veterinary and Life Sciences Research
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Comments (2 responses)

fiona mochrie February 7, 2017

What an interesting article. Garth will be giving a public lecture on this topic on Monday the 27th February as part of the lecture series theme UNDERCOVER. For more information please see the eventbrite page.

Mike Jones February 7, 2017

You make an excellent point – natural does not necessarily equal good, and very often doesn't. I vote for properly tested pharmaceuticals that have been through thorough clinical trials, of known composition and concentration, and not for herbal concoctions of unknown composition and dubious benefit (or even harm). I could provide a list of 52 toxic compounds present in that so-called superfood, kale, which include cyanide compounds, cyanogenic glycosides, goitrin, glucosinolates etc. Most plants have evolved toxic compounds to protect themselves against pests and diseases – particularly still present in non- domesticated plants (like obscure herbs!)

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