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Bring Herbal Remedies Into Doctor Dialogue, Experts Caution

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    http://www.healthscout.com/template.asp?page=newsdetail&ap=1&id=504715 Bring Herbal Remedies Into Doctor Dialogue, Experts Caution Use of herbal teas should be
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 27, 2002

      Bring Herbal Remedies Into Doctor Dialogue, Experts Caution

      Use of herbal teas should be considered in diagnosing liver problems

      By Nancy A. Melville
      HealthScoutNews Reporter

      MONDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthScoutNews) -- Herbal remedies may seem like
      safe alternatives to conventional medicines, but experts say recent
      cases of liver toxicity underscore the need for caution when taking
      such supplements.

      In one such instance, a 40-year-old woman from Brooklyn, N.Y., was
      diagnosed with liver toxicity that was traced to the consumption of
      Chinese rice tea.

      According to Dr. T.C. Chauhan, who treated the woman, she had
      apparently been drinking just a few cups of the tea each day because
      she believed the tea helped control her diabetes.

      The woman was from Sri Lanka, where some believe Chinese rice tea
      strengthens the pancreas, and hence lessens the diabetes risk,
      according to Chauhan, a gastroenterology fellow at the Brooklyn
      Hospital Center.

      Chauhan says the tea was targeted because the woman had no other
      liver problems, and the symptoms disappeared after she stopped
      drinking the tea.

      While Chinese rice tea isn't known to be a toxin, Chauhan says it
      can, like so many other herbal remedies, have a toxic effect for any
      number of reasons.

      "The active ingredients contained in many herbal remedies aren't
      standardized, so it could be that some people, like this woman, may
      find themselves with stronger concentrations that can be harmful," he

      In another case related to herbal tea, doctors from the Wyckoff
      Heights Medical Center, also in Brooklyn, reported that a patient
      suffered the toxic effects of lead consumption after consuming an
      herbal tea that had actually been contaminated with lead.

      The patient is estimated to have inadvertently consumed more than
      three grams of lead, say the doctors. After being diagnosed and
      treated, the patient recovered.

      In addition, in the third, more stark case, doctors with Cook County
      Hospital in Chicago reported that a 45-year-old woman experienced
      liver failure after consuming almost 30 different herbal remedies
      over several months.

      The woman had been reluctant to admit she was using the alternative
      therapies, but after she was diagnosed, she successfully underwent a
      liver transplant.

      Doctors say the case illustrates the problem of patients hiding
      information that might be crucial in diagnosing a serious problem.

      "Because patients are not aware of the potential danger of these
      alternative therapies, they may be reluctant to admit to their use,"
      explains Chauhan.

      Chauhan says his patient also withheld information on her use of
      herbal remedies until symptoms became serious.

      "Until she was hospitalized for jaundice and other signs of
      hepatotoxicity, our patient denied her use of herbs and
      over-the-counter remedies," he says.

      But Robert Bonakdar, a family physician and clinical and research
      fellow in integrative medicine at the Scripps Center for Integrative
      Medicine in La Jolla, Calif., says patients bear only part of the

      Doctors must also be more assertive in inquiring about patient use of
      alternative remedies, he says.

      "It's really a two-pronged problem, because a lot of doctors don't
      even ask if their patients are taking herbal medicines. I've seen
      statistics that say between 60 and 80 percent don't ask their
      patients," he says.

      In addition, it's not always because doctors aren't concerned about
      potential problems. In fact, Bonakdar says, it's those concerns that
      actually may prevent them from inquiring in some cases.

      "For one thing, doctors have legal considerations to think about,"
      Bonakdar adds. "If they don't know enough about a supplement a
      patient is taking and problems do arise, they may fear being liable
      in some way."

      Another factor can be ego, he adds.

      "Some doctors may fear that if they ask about herbal remedies and are
      told a patient is taking something they haven't heard of, they look
      like an idiot for not knowing, so they just won't even ask," he says.

      Whatever the reasons, by not asking patients about herbal remedies,
      doctors compound patients' notions that it's not all that important.

      "Patients may think that if the doctor asks about things like
      medicines, exercise and smoking, but not about supplements, then it
      must not be that important. And that's a complete misconception,"
      Bonakdar says.

      The possible role of herbal remedies or alternative therapies should
      be especially considered in patients showing up at doctor's offices
      with symptoms of liver problems, Chauhan says.

      "Problems from misuse of herbal remedies are often seen in the liver
      because the liver is sort of their first pass," he says. "Once taken,
      the medicine changes to chemically different components, which have
      an effect on the body and can affect liver cells down the road."

      Experts say some of the most popular herbal remedies - - garlic, for
      instance - - are generally harmless and indeed, potentially
      beneficial, in acceptable doses.

      But problems can arise from other herbal remedies even if consumers
      think they are taking correct doses because, since such supplements
      aren't regulated, there is no oversight of levels of active
      ingredients a product contains, explains Bonakdar.

      "Tests on selected herbal remedies have shown everything from
      products containing far less or even no amounts of the active
      ingredient advertised, to others containing several times more of the
      ingredient than is described on the label, which can be especially
      dangerous," he says.

      One company that does performs such tests recently found that only
      about half of products that claimed to contain the sleep-inducing
      herb Valerian had the amounts indicated on their labels, and four out
      of the 17 contained no detectable levels of the ingredient.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that sales of
      herbal and botanical products totaled $3 billion in 1999. The figures
      represented a 20 percent increase from 1995, constituting the highest
      increase of all dietary supplement products.

      Some of the highest selling herbal products include garlic, ginseng,
      ginkgo biloba and echinacea.

      What To Do

      Visit the National Institute of Health's National Center for
      Complementary and Alternative Medicine for more information on what's
      considered safe and what's not.

      In addition, visit the FDA's site on Dietary Supplements for more

      The FDA also offers extensive information on Illnesses and Injuries
      Associated With the Use of Selected Dietary Supplements.

      Sponsored Links
      These links are paid for by individual sponsors. They are carefully
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      For information on clinical trials being conducted on a variety of
      diseases and conditions,please go to Acurian.

      SOURCES: Interviews with T.C. Chauhan, M.D., fellow, gastroenterology
      and hepatology, Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Robert
      Bonakdar, M.D., family physician, and clinical and research fellow,
      integrative medicine, Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, La
      Jolla, Calif.; American Academy of Gastroenterology press release

      Copyright � 2002 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

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