Radical Cure Article

How Safe Are Traditional Herbal Medicines?

Traditional medicines have been used to cure deadly ailments such as diabetes, cancer and ulcer. Most traditional medicines are consumed in their raw and semi-processed forms by Asians, Africans and Latin Americans. But over the years, countries like China and India have been able to refine and develop traditional drugs and are exporting them to Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Some of them make claims of being able to cure infertility, menstrual cramps, irregular cycles, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, hot flashes, arthritis, weak digestion and endometriosis.

 
There is, however, growing global concern about the safety of traditional medicines, as there have been several cases of complications caused by some of the traditional medicines exported to Europe and America. For this reason and the fact that people tend to use herbal medicines indiscriminately, regulatory bodies in countries like Britain and America have stopped the importation of some traditional drugs from China and India.
 
"Research we conducted last year found a significant proportion of people believed 'herbal' means 'benign'," says Richard Woodfield, Head of Herbal Policy at the Medicines and Health Care Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). "That means people are more liable to self-medicate, and to neglect to inform their doctors, even though there's a risk that the herbal remedy will react with any prescription drugs. They're also more vulnerable to fraudulent, even criminal operators who put products out which are heavily adulterated with dangerous pharmaceuticals."
 
Last year, scientists at Boston University found that a fifth of Ayurvedic medicines - popular traditional Indian herbal remedies - bought over the internet contained dangerous levels of lead, mercury or arsenic, which could cause stomach pains, vomiting or liver problems.
 
Menopause remedies also came under fire after a study reported in the Drugs and Therapeutics Bulletin, a journal that reviews medical treatment, found no evidence they actually worked. Gynaecologist Heather Curry of the British Menopause Society says, "Our feeling is that there isn't enough scientific evidence either on effectiveness or safety."
 
For example, a German study last year found the "herbal antidepressant" St John's Wort to be as effective as standard antidepressants such as Prozac. However, side effects such as dry mouth, dizziness and stomach pains have been widely reported and it interacts strongly with some prescription drugs such as Warfarin and oral contraceptives. And in April, an MHRA investigation into Jia Ji Jian, sometimes marketed as 'herbal Viagra', revealed it contained up to four times the level of pharmaceuticals found in legally prescribed anti-obesity and anti-erectile dysfunction medicinal products, which can cause serious side effects including heart and blood pressure problems. As a herbal remedy it should not contain any pharmaceuticals at all.
 
In Nigeria, the business of traditional medicines is a very lucrative one. People say they are affordable, accessible and they work. Of recent, some traditional medicine practitioners have gone into aggressive media advertisement to register their products and presence in major towns like Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Aba and others, all in a bid to promote their products and woo more customers. It is not uncommon to hear their claims of how one traditional medicine can cure over 10 different health problems. One wonders how that is possible. There are even those who have claimed that they have the cure for HIV/AIDS.
 
The nation's regulatory body for drugs, the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), has tested and approved some of these traditional medicines as being safe for use. But many still have their doubts about them. In spite of NAFDAC's efforts, it is worrisome to see all manner of people venturing into the business. With the poor regulation and monitoring strategies, the health of Nigerians in this regard stands at great risk.
 
Some residents in Abuja lay bare their minds on the safety of traditional medicines. Mr. Chukwuma Ikeagwani, a financial expert spoke on the challenges and ways to improve traditional medicines. "Herbal drugs no doubt have been successfully used in treating various ailments. They have also helped to bring relief to some patients where orthodox drugs could not do anything, reducing complications that could have led to death. Whether they are all safe though is doubtful. The business is considered by some to be very lucrative, so there is infiltration by quacks, because there are cases of fake herbal drugs on the market. Most of these traditional drugs don't have regulated doses, as some of them are not scientifically manufactured.
"Another issue is the environment where they are being produced. Most of these places are nothing to write home about. The instruments are mostly not sterilised or kept clean. Also some of the substances they use are dangerous to human health. Well, traditional drugs can be improved if the government through its research institutes, can collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Health in partnering with development partners. Traditional medicine practitioners will then produce safe herbal drugs. Also, the government should regulate their activities."
 
Israel Okosun, a graduate of philosophy gave his view about traditional medicine practitioners and the safety of traditional medicines. "Traditional medicines were used by our forefathers and were effective, but not now, as most traditional medicine practitioners are not genuine and as dependable as in the olden days. Most of them are quacks just out to deceive and make money from unsuspecting customers. Some of them use magic in the name of traditional medicine practice, to induce people to patronise them to the detriment of their health. People now prefer to go to hospital and use orthodox drugs, since traditional medicines are not reliable. I am not condemning all of them. Some are genuine and have positively contributed to the health care of Nigerians.
 
My advice to NAFDAC is that a unit or department should be established, which will dedicatedly monitor and control the activities of traditional medicine practitioners to ensure the safety of traditional medicines and weed out quacks," Okosun said.
Bioko Ezekiel, a political analyst said, "Actually, traditional medicine is as old as man and the society then heavily depended on it to tackle different health problems. The use of traditional medicines can enhance longevity. Countries like China and India majorly depend on them. Some of these traditional drugs can cure a lot of ailments, which I have witnessed.
 
People condemn traditional medicines because Britain came with orthodox drugs to convince us against our traditional medicines. This has made some of us throw away our traditional heritage, which traditional drugs are a part of. I mean we are fast losing our cultural heritage to orthodox drugs, which are mostly chemical-based. I see traditional medicines as safe for human consumption. Therefore, the government should revive its practice and usage. Government is simply not committed to developing traditional medicines, because it does not have regard for what its own produce, which are natural and good for human health. If there is more political will by the government in developing traditional medicine, most people will be able to afford it."

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